Friday, May 15, 2009

A Flash (Fiction) Of Insight

Some of you may know me as the administrator of Prose-P, the Internet Writing Workshop's critiquing list dedicated to the crafts of flash fiction and prose poetry. While prose poetry has been around for quite some time, flash fiction is a recent phenomenon that has become hugely popular.

What, then, is flash fiction? Well, it's a short story - a very short story. Which is why flash fiction has also been known as short-short fiction, and sudden fiction. The length of the average flash fiction story is 500 to 750 words or less, though some publishers have defined flash fiction as being as long as 1,500 words or less. Since the exact word length varies from publisher to publisher, after some debate on Prose-P, we set the maximum length for submissions at 1,000 words or less. Most flash pieces aren't that long.

No matter what the length, the purpose of flash fiction is the same: to tell a compelling story in few words. A work of flash fiction, like a regular short story, must have a beginning, a middle, and an end - a setup, a conflict, and resolution. Traditionally, flash fiction carries an ironic or surprise twist ending that makes the very short story resonate with the reader. However, this is not a requirement. But the flash fiction story must have the same structure as a longer work - setup, conflict, resolution.

Therein lies the challenge - to craft a compelling, complete story in few words. Recently, flash writers have experimented with smaller and smaller word lengths, resulting in the following flash formats:

Postcard Fiction

Postcard fiction is short flash fiction about 250 words or less in length. It's called Postcard because it's short enough to write on a postcard.


The drabble is another very short form of flash fiction. Drabbles are exactly 100 words long, no more, no less, title not included. Titles of drabbles are 15 words or less, and legally hyphenated words count as one.

55 Fiction

This format - a story told in exactly 55 words - began in a writing contest held by a newspaper back in 1987, and continues to be popular today. I've written 55 fiction myself. It's really challenging - and fun! Here's a piece of 55 Fiction I wrote called Love Lesson:


When she opened the door, I had a rose in my teeth. We made wild, desultory love, then snuggled up like children under the covers. We talked. I listened.

Before I left, I told her I loved her. She smiled.

"You're so... perfect," she said. "Unlike my husband. He could learn from you."

You can see how, in just 55 words, so much can be said. That's 55 Fiction. Now. imagine what you could pack into a regular flash story, of, say, 500 words or so. It's all about compact, concise writing.

If you'd like to read more flash fiction, try the following sites:


Flash Fiction Online

If you'd like to join Prose-P, the Internet Writing Workshop's flash fiction critiquing list, send an e-mail to Prose-P-Request.

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