Just like the name implies, flash fiction is short enough to read in an instant. But if you’re not reading it, here’s why you should be.
Opinions vary on how long a flash fiction piece should be. Some markets say 300 words max, some say 500, others say 1,000. Whatever the case may be, flash fiction has to be really short—which is not to say incomplete. Rather, many flash pieces still have the elements of traditional literature (character, plot, conflict, setting), only they’re condensed. Think of them like shorter short stories.
The form has existed for quite a while, though it wasn’t known as “flash fiction” until 1992, when James Thomas, Denise Thomas, and Tom Hazuka published their anthology Flash Fiction: 72 Very Short Stories. Despite the form’s relative mainstream obscurity, many high-profile authors have written flash fiction, including Kurt Vonnegut, Ray Bradbury, Joyce Carol Oats, Ernest Hemingway, and H.P. Lovecraft.
In many ways, flash fiction bears a strong resemblance to poetry. With so few words to work with, language becomes key. Some of my favorite flash pieces create a mood or feeling instead of focusing on narrative, just as some poems do. Others feature complete stories with beginnings, middles, and ends. It’s a flexible form.
Thanks to the internet, flash fiction’s popularity has only grown. There are numerous online magazines out there devoted solely to flash fiction, and quite a few popular markets that publish flash from time to time. Just to name a few: Apex Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Flash Fiction Online, and NANO Fiction.
If you’d like to challenge yourself as a writer, flash is a great way to do it. It might sound easy to write 500 words, but when you sit down and think about all the components of a good story, it can be difficult to cram everything in.
Furthermore, with such limited space to work with, your language must be razor sharp. In general, readers are far more forgiving of bland language in long-form narratives. It’s easy to skip a poorly-written section of a novel. But when a piece only lasts about a page or two, that poor writing will stick out like a fly in your drink.
Flash fiction is a unique form which will, in my opinion, only grow in popularity in the future. Word counts are shrinking, our attention spans are decreasing , and concision is becoming more and more essential. Try some flash fiction and see if you agree.