What is Flash Fiction?
Flash fiction is a creative writing form that's probably best defined through examples, given that it's continually being reinvented by writers as they experiment, challenge themselves and stretch the boundaries of what they can do. (Ask ten authors to define this form and you'll probably get ten different answers.) It now includes a wide variety of types and lengths, from six word stories, Twitter fiction (140 characters or less) and drabbles (100 words exactly) to longer pieces of a few hundred words.
In this article, I provide original examples of flash fiction of different lengths and styles. Hopefully, reading these stories will give you a better understanding of this relatively new, highly focused form of creative writing.
Example: Twitter Fiction
Twitter fiction is among the most challenging to write because you're limited to 140 characters. That may seem like a lot when you're just mentioning your plans for the weekend, but when you're trying to tell a story, it becomes extremely restrictive. Twitter stories often leave a lot to the reader's imagination. They can also draw on common knowledge such as myths, history, and well-known stories to convey a tale with very few words.
Here's an example of Twitter fiction. This untitled story of mine was published in the Twitter magazine Nanoism on December 1, 2012.
Odin scowled. "What do you call this? The end of the world?"
Loki shrugged. "I dunno, looks like a good party to me."
As you can see, knowing who Odin and Loki are is key to the tale; I was able to shortcut the story and save space by assuming that the reader has some familiarity with these mythical deities.
Here's another example from Christopher Ryan (@TerseTales) that I think is outstanding; it appeared on Twitter on March 5, 2012, and I'm reprinting it here with his permission.
"At the height of this city's might the King boasted that no foreign power would ever topple us." He kicked a bit of rubble. "He was right."
This story reveals a lot by suggestion: the fact that the city was toppled is revealed by the presence of rubble, while the statement "He was right" implies that the city's fate was self-inflicted. I really admire the way he captured the essence of a grand story in just three short sentences.
And here's one more from me, published by Nanoism on May 8, 2013:
You asked me to edit your memoir. It was much more satisfying after I replaced her name with mine.
While this story doesn't tell you a lot about the people involved, you know that the speaker does editing and apparently has romantic feelings for the person commissioning the work. Perhaps this extra edit is the speaker's way of communicating those feelings. There's definitely a larger story here, and maybe I'll explore it more someday.
Example: 50 Word Fiction
The following is a story exactly fifty words long (not including the title). I don't think there's an official term for stories of this length, though I've seen at least one market refer to them as dribbles. This piece was also written as an exercise.
The books tumbled to the ground, a landslide of paper. She righted the toppled box and picked up each book, cradling it like a broken bird, inspecting the spine and pages for damage. James watched her, unrepentant.
She carried the box to the car, not uttering a word, even goodbye.
Example: the Drabble
A drabble is a story exactly 100 words long. Writing to a precise word length is difficult and makes you really weigh every word. (I don't consider the title when doing my word count, although other writers may feel differently. The online magazine 100 Word Story publishes drabbles and they don't include the title as part of the count.)
Here's a drabble I composed as a writing exercise.
Dew-flecked grass rippled in the breeze. The morning air chilled me through my thick clothes. I should've worn a jacket, but I wasn't going inside to get one.
The woods surrounding the cabin were quiet. I sat on the steps, sheltered from the wind. The sky was crisp, ice blue.
After a long time, the door opened. I held my breath, resolved not to look.
Something landed behind me with a soft thud. I turned to find my jacket within arm's reach. I looked up, caught a glimpse of his eyes.
The door rattled closed, then gave way to silence.
Examples: Longer Flash Fiction
Here are some longer pieces of flash fiction I wrote as exercises. In the first one, the prompt assignment was to sample a lyric from a song; I used the line "the dogs are weeping" from the song Inside by Sting. In the second piece, the prompt was the first line "He's not normal."
In the Absence of Malice
The dogs are weeping; they miss their master. They sound their misery in moans, whines, the occasional howl. Yesterday and the day before, they were less sorrowful but no less expressive: they tore at cushions, clothes, anything within reach. Now the anger at his absence gives way to gloom; they realize he won't be back.
They blame me that he's gone. That's why they tear at my things and lie in worship of his. They don't care that he hurt me; they can't understand the slow machinations he executed, the way he undermined my confidence, my will, my self-respect. They know only that they loved him and that he's gone.
My heart's much the same. It won't be comforted either.
He's not normal. He wears sweaters in summer, t-shirts in the briskness of fall. He always wears white, as if he's some fallen angel averse to colors. Maybe he's just trying to disappear, to not stand out.
He waits in line at the coffee shop for a single small black coffee. He comes in every morning, makes the same order, counts out exact change. By now Kelly doesn't even tell him the amount; he has it memorized, has his nickels and dimes and quarters and pennies ready for her by the time she places the Styrofoam cup on the counter in front of him.
Today, though, he does something different: he smiles at her. He's never done that before, never said a word beyond his request for coffee and his simple thank you. He smiles, looking at her name tag, and says her name with his thanks. "I'm Will," he adds. "See you tomorrow."
The other server grimaces at Kelly as they stand at the cappuccino machine. "Creepy; he's using your name now. Next thing you know he'll be bringing you flowers and telling people you're his girlfriend."
She says nothing; she's not sure she'd mind.
© 2014 C. A. Chancellor