Posted in On Writing

To Flash or Not To Flash?


The jewel of the sudden story is the gap. A lot of words are missing, not because they are extraneous, but because their absence speaks the unspeakable.The writer of the sudden story has to weigh the efficacy of each word. Knowing what to include – often the details – and knowing what not to include – often everything but the details – that’s not a gift. It’s a practice that involves trusting the written word more than yourself. – Lori Ann Stephens

Flash Fiction

We here so much about flash fiction nowadays. It comes under many different names. Pamelyn Casto recounts its various titles in her article Flashes on the Meridian: Dazzled by Flash Fiction:

Other names for it include short-short stories, sudden, postcard, minute, furious, fast, quick, skinny, and micro fiction. In France such works are called nouvelles. In China this type of writing has several interesting names: little short story, pocket-size story, minute-long story, palm-sized story, and my personal favorite, the smoke-long story (just long enough to read while smoking a cigarette)

We live in a hectic, fast-paced world where everything has to happen now and happen quickly. Many people argue that they no longer have the time to read novels and are attracted to theses very short stories – the sort that can be read on the go, between meetings, during a commute to worker over a quick sandwich at lunch time.

As a writer I love the challenge afforded me of having a restricted word count. Some of my personal favourites are:

Five Sentence Fiction – a great blog by Lillie McFerrin, currently having a short break, but I hope will reappear in 2016. For each week’s prompt you are challenged to write a story that is just five sentences long.

5×5 Fiction – this blog, run by Angel Zapata, no longer operates but the idea is still worth trying. A 25 word story made up of five sentences, each five words long.

Six Word Stories – made famous by Ernest Hemingway who, apparently, was challenged to write a story of just six words, he came up with this:

For sale:baby shoes, never worn.

Nowadays there are lots of opportunities to write six word stories and share them both on Twitter #sixwords and on the six word memoirs website.

Dribbles, Drabbles and Droubles

Then, of course, you get Dribbles, Drabbles and Droubles. For those of you that don’t know, drabbles are short stories of exactly 100 words. There seems to be some confusion as to where the term originated. It appears to have links to Birmingham University’s SF Society, the British author Phil Drabble and a Monty Python sketch. Check out the Drabble Project, you will see that some well-known authors have dabbled with drabbles (sorry about that.)

In a way the names speak for themselves – dribbles are short stories of exactly 50 words and droubles are short stories of exactly 200 words.

Some might say that this is not story writing in its purest sense but I would disagree. For me writing is all about being able to tell a story – how long or short the ‘telling’ is is irrelevant, what really counts is what your audience think. Do the people reading your story enjoy it, does it move them in some way, do they want you to ‘tell’ them more stories?

How To Write Flash Fiction

David Gaffney calls his ultra short stories ‘Sawn-off Tales’ and started writing them when he was commuting between Manchester and Liverpool, a 50 minute train journey.

It worked. By the time I got to Birchwood I had it down to 500 words, by Warrington to 300, at Widnes 200 and as the train drew in to Liverpool Lime Street there it was – 150 words, half a page of story; with a beginning, a middle and an end, with character development and descriptions.

In an article for the Guardian he talks about how to write flash fiction – 

1. Start in the middle – You don’t have time in this very short form to set scenes and build character.

2. Don’t use too many characters – You won’t have time to describe your characters. Even a name may not be useful in a micro-story.

3. Make sure the ending isn’t at the end – In micro-fiction there’s a danger that much of the engagement with the story takes place when the reader has stopped reading. To avoid this, place the denouement in the middle of the story, allowing us time, as the rest of the text spins out, to consider the situation along with the narrator, and ruminate on the decisions his characters have taken.

4. Sweat your title – Make it work for a living.

5. Make your last line ring like a bell – The last line is not the ending but it should leave the reader with something which will continue to sound after the story has finished. It should not complete the story but rather take us into a new place; a place where we can continue to think about the ideas in the story and wonder what it all meant.

6. Write long, then go short – Create a lump of stone from which you chip out your story sculpture.

So what’s stopping you? I’m off to write a smoke-long story.

Mike Jackson


4 thoughts on “To Flash or Not To Flash?

  1. Thanks for this. I think I’ve come across David Gaffney’s tips before – number 6 is particularly true. I love the raw emotion which comes with Hemingway’s story. I suppose like any genre, there is good …..and a lot of not so good. Too many micro fictions rely on shock value for their denouement, but without enough skill to really make it work. The best ones leave room for “what if”, and the story expands in the reader’s head.


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