Entries tagged with “flash fiction”.

by Robert Swartwood

FFC published this article by Robert Swartwood in April of 2009 about a form of flash Robert named Hint Fiction. He then ran a contest that led to the publication of hint fiction: An Anthology of Stories in 25 Words or Fewer. Robert recently announced a new contest. Submissions are open for the month of April. The link to the contest appears at the end of this article. –Jim Harrington


Flash fiction isn’t anything new. It’s been around since the time of Aesop.  Why it’s becoming more prominent and popular today is because of this nifty digital age in which we now live.

Modern men and women have established severe forms of ADD — they don’t like sitting still for extended periods of time, and looking at long lines of text on a computer screen? Forget it. Twitter just proves this new disorder by giving 140-character updates of just about anything — there is even an online magazine published in the Twitter format, and one author has even begun to serialize his novel using the application. I wouldn’t be surprised if in the next year or two a new service is invented, a complete knock-off of Twitter, that displays updates of only 70-characters, because, let’s face it, 140-characters is just TOO MUCH.

Actually, the question I want to present now isn’t what’s too much.

It’s what’s too little.

Nearly everyone is familiar with Ernest Hemingway’s six-word story: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

The legend of where this piece came from varies in detail, but basically Hemingway was challenged to write a story in just six words; he came back the next day with that little ditty, what he supposedly claimed was his best work.

Now do those six words constitute a story?

Some people think so; some don’t.

Some argue that there is no protagonist, no conflict, no beginning, middle, end.

Some argue that you don’t necessarily NEED a protagonist, conflict, a beginning, middle, end to make a story.

What is a story, after all? I’m not going to try to debase it by dissecting its Merriam-Webster definition. Everyone has his or her own skewed opinion of what it means.

Some are hardcore traditionalists who require the beginning, middle, end, protag, conflict, the whole nine yards. To them if any of those pieces are missing, then it’s not a true story.

Others are more lax. They understand inference plays a great part. After all, imagination IS key, but at what point does a writer depend too much upon a reader’s imagination?

Personally, I’ve always believed a writer should try to find a strong middle ground in his or her storytelling — a place where they can meet the reader halfway, just giving enough detail that the reader’s imagination is then able to fill in the rest. Those, I believe, are the best type of stories, because the reader becomes engaged in the process.

Good flash fiction demands this of its readers.  It only gives so much, enough that the reader can fill in the blanks, help finish the painting, and then, at the end, can marvel at its brilliance.

But what about those really, really, really, really, REALLY short stories?  The, you know, six-word stories.  Are they considered flash fiction?  If not, what should we call them?

Me, I want to coin a term, so I’m going to do it here and now: those very, very, very, VERY short stories should be called Hint Fiction. Because that’s all the reader is ever given.  Just a hint.  Not a scene, or a setting, or even a character sketch.  They are given a hint, nothing more, and are asked — nay, forced — to fill in the blanks.  And believe me, there are a lot of blanks.

What is the word limit of Hint Fiction?  Well, if a drabble is 100 words, and a dribble is 50 words, then how about we say Hint Fiction cannot be anything more than 25 words.

One of the biggest hints in Hint Fiction is the title.  It’s like the setup to a joke, and the “story” is the punch line.  Without the one, the other won’t work.

For those of you wrinkling your noses right now, try to relate this to abstract art. Is a painting of three joined panels — one blue, one yellow, one red — art?  You’re probably thinking no, but I guarantee you there are some who would pay thousands for such a piece.

Here’s another question: Is Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night art?

Almost all of you will probably agree that it is.  And why do you think this?  Because ever since your very first art class in school you were told that it was art.  You were told that van Gogh was a genius and that The Starry Night is one of his masterpieces.

Let’s face it, art is subjective.  Either we like it or we don’t.  The same goes with flash fiction and, now that I’ve coined the term, Hint Fiction.  We can argue about Hemingway’s six-word story, or any piece of Hint Fiction, until we’re blue in the face.  In the end we won’t change any minds. We know what we know and we think what we think and nothing is going to change that.

If you haven’t realized it yet, I’m far from being a staunch traditionalist. I like trying new things. I think writers should be encouraged to try new things. It’s not always going to work, of course, but at least you tried, and that’s the important part.

As Samuel Beckett said: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Now go out there and spread the good word about Hint Fiction.

Just remember to tell them who sent you.


Here’s the link to a follow up article we published in April of 2010, and here’s the link to the contest.


Robert Swartwood lives in Pennsylvania.  His Hint Fiction has appeared in elimae, Lamination Colony, and The Northville Review.

by Gay Degani


Jim Harrington, who is doing a bang-up job here at FFC,  invited me to answer his question, “Why do you write flash fiction?”  Here are three big reasons.

1. Malcolm Gladwell

Not him, but his 10,000 hours.  Maybe not his 10,000 hours (according to Wikipedia they belong to Dr. K. Anders Ericsson); however, it was from Gladwell’s book Outliers that I first heard about the idea that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at complicated skills such as playing the piano or programming a computer or—what I’m interested in—writing something good.

Of course, 10,000 hours is 10,000 hours whether you spend time on a novel, novella, short story, or flash, but by definition, practice is repetition.  So if someone’s goal is to “write something good,” which of the above formats allows a writer to draft a story, rewrite it, workshop it, revise it, let it simmer, rework it, revise it again, ask three friends for more comments, edit it one more time, proof-read it, and send it off to ten of your most desired publishers, all in the course of one or two weeks?  Flash fiction.

2. It’s Trite, but Writers Write

Only through practice can a writer understand that beautiful words must, in the end, mean something.

If a writer practices over and over again by putting together 300, 700, 1000 and 1500-word stories, he will repeat the writing process over and over in short amounts of time.  The day-to-day act of creating allows writers to become immersed in the work and immersion brings a kind of “muscle memory” to the act.

A writer of flash must constantly craft new characters, set scenes, find precise, evocative language, and nudge out meaning.  A writer of flash comes quickly to the need for originality and surprise in story-telling, that characters must be individuals with different problems, different fears, different coping mechanisms, and that incorporating lines or phrases about time and place will anchor a piece, yet must be deftly done. And these are the obvious elements.

Only through practice can a writer understand that beautiful words must, in the end, mean something. Not necessarily a big something, but a spark of insight into another person, a moment of self-awareness, the reinforcement of a universal truth.  Good stories contain meaning because style, diction, imagery, symbolism, allusions, and tone are seamlessly woven into the text.

Flash fiction not only allows a writer to practice literary elements, but it demands that she use them, and the stories demand it because they are short. Every word counts in flash and every word that brings more than one meaning to a sentence, a paragraph, or a whole work, is a word that must be sought after and found.  Writing flash engenders an appreciation of the power and nuance of language, and prepares the writer to take on a variety of challenges that stretch skills and deepen the work.

 3. Perfect Diamonds

Which is more beautiful, a solitary diamond flashing in the sun or a diamond necklace designed so that each stone sparkles in harmony with the others?  There is no real answer.  It all depends on the quality of the carbon, the cut of the stone, the presentation.  And it’s about preference too.  One person might choose a solitaire over a necklace, a stickpin over a brooch, or decide to snatch the whole treasure. Another might desire only one, and then crave and seek the other. It’s up to the individual.

When it came to writing–and I’ve been writing a long time–I couldn’t always see my way through the different rules, guidelines, trends, nuances, techniques, and hazy mythological clouds that surrounded what I called the “glass mountain.”  I could see inside, what others managed to achieve.  I could climb all around it,  but I could never suss out exactly how to get inside.  I realize now it’s like walking into Tiffany’s and having someone tell you can look at the diamonds, but you can’t touch and you certainly can’t buy.

In diamonds and in writing, it’s about figuring out what works. I’m sure I’ve spent 10,000 + hours writing all kinds of stories, long and short, with a good amount of flailing in the dark, and though I make no claim to expertise, it is through flash fiction, I have finally gained enough confidence and skill to push on.  Everyone is a beginner, but how long a writer stays a beginner is up to the writer. Pick a strategy. My strategy was flash fiction.

In an article that touts how practice brings expertise, I am a little embarrassed about this analogy.  I could use “flowers,” I suppose, how a single amaryllis in afternoon light can speed the heart and how sometimes walking in a desert of poppies, thousands of them dusty green and orange, can do the same thing. But I like the reference I chose because good writing is as beautiful and precious as diamonds.


Gay Degani has published on-line and in print including a chapbook, Pomegranate Stories. Every Day Publishing is releasing her novel, What Came Before this winter, serialized on-line and in print. She is an editor at Smokelong Quarterly and founder and editor emeritus at Flash Fiction Chronicles.  She blogs at Words in Place where a list of her stories can be found.

by Sarah Crysl Akhtar

…because flash stories don’t prey on your mind the way a novel would, writing them is refreshing rather than exhausting.

A few years ago I had an idea for a story, wrote it, and felt pretty good about it.  But it was well over 3,000 words and I was just beginning to discover the joys of flash.

Occasionally I’d take a look at what I suspected was a somewhat overgrown effort, make a few minor edits, and close it up again.

A few months ago, an entirely new opening for it just popped into my mind–that, if used, would change the story’s structure, mood and resolution entirely.

And finally make it come alive.

Now I’ll never know if some publication, somewhere, would have liked the original.  I demolished it.

One of the gifts of flash, for a writer, is that you can have a lot of little pots simmering on the fire at once.  If something isn’t gelling, something else might be.  As with any craft, you begin to develop the sense and feel for when a work is ready, or not, and because flash stories don’t prey on your mind the way a novel would, writing them is refreshing rather than exhausting.

I’ve said in other places that I prefer writing to be solitary work, and I feel that workshopping is, necessarily, the killer of spontaneity.  I believe that an essential ingredient to creative growth is developing and refining your intuition; letting the voice of the story mute your own; learning to recognize for yourself when something is ripe, and when it isn’t.


Sarah Crysl Akhtar‘s shtetl forebears gifted her with the genes that impel her to make much from little. So of course she writes flash fiction, cultivates orchards on her windowsill and bakes fabulous shortbread. Her son gives her what’s immeasurable–the best of all possible worlds. (Less miraculous fruit of her labors has appeared on Every Day Fiction, Flash Fiction Online and Perihelion SF Magazine.)

by Joanna Sterling

So you’ve spotted an advert for a piece of Flash Fiction, it’s your chance to get your work to a wider audience.  Your heart says – Go for it.  But your head should be saying …

#1      Does the brief interest me?  – however much you want to have your work published, is it a theme, topic or genre that gets your creative juices flowing?  If Sci-fi isn’t your thing then try as you might to shoehorn your story into the genre it won’t work – not even in a flash fiction.

#2      Have I read the brief properly? – this may seem obvious but when an editor or publisher is looking for something specific to fulfill a slot or as part of a project, then that is what they are looking for.  They don’t want your story that’s been languishing in the drawer for six months brushed off and given a new title.

#3      Am I just topping and tailing? – a common mistake,  to take a perfectly good story in its own right and top and tail it to fit the brief.  For example, change the setting or the sex of a character.  It rarely works and publishers/editors can spot this ruse a mile off.

#4      Have I checked out past work? – don’t  just launch in.   Read the type of work the website or magazine publishes.  What is the ‘house-style’?  This also goes for the way they handle text and punctuation, do they use speech marks, for instance?

 #5     Have I edited and edited again?  – check there are no spelling mistakes and grammar errors.  I know this sounds boring but poor English is slapdash and in a piece of work that may only be 300 words long there is no excuse.

Good Luck.


Joanna Sterling writes short stories and flash fiction. She has had a number of stories published in magazines, anthologies and online including English PEN. As part of National Short Story Week Joanna hosts ‘Telling Tales and Taking Tea’, a series of events for the local community bringing the wonders of the short story to a wider audience.Joanna has a website ‘The Casket of Fictional Delights’ where she showcases her own and guest writers’ short stories and flash fiction. Joanna has devised Tube-Flash and, in conjunction with Transport for London, this collection of flash fiction stories mapping a journey around the London Underground is being published on her website and recorded as audio podcasts for iTunes.

Joanna lives in London with her husband and her ever growing collection of brooches. Her website can be found at www.thecasket.co.uk, and you can follow her on Twitter @casketfiction or Facebook at www.facebook.com/casketfiction

by Karen NelsonKaren in Blue

Humans are made to learn… sometimes in spite of ourselves.  But the truth about education is that it can be found in some pretty surprising places, and it usually comes tuition-free.  As students of life, we have many options: taking a traditional class on a topic that intrigues us, working with a mentor in our field, attending a special event, such as a reading or conference, or just observing how someone we admire works through their process.

Flash Fiction Chronicles is the perfect resource to explore all of your writing options in one place.  Just in the month of October, we met a diverse group of professionals eager to share their knowledge.

In Christopher Ramsey‘s creative writing class, he offers “simple, yet vague, advice: write a scene, avoid too much description, utilize dialogue to reveal backstory, start the story in media res, don’t use exclamation marks, and avoid the word THAT.”  Sounds simple – until you try it.

In Beth Lee-Browning’s article, “Inspiration“, “a ‘teacher’ can take on many forms and isn’t limited to a classroom or mentoring relationship. It can be a chance meeting at an author’s luncheon, a conversation in an airport, or even the gift of a book.”

Of course, finding the right place to write can take a lot of time, too.  Rohini Gupta admonishes writers to avoid spending too much time on achieving the perfect environment, though.

It is never a place, it is a mindset. Places are not quiet, you are.

As a fan of prose poetry, I was especially intrigued by Bill West’s “Crossing the (Invisible) Line“, which examines the similarities between prose poems and flash fiction, and helps us know how to differentiate one from the other.  Learning from other genres is an instant boost to our own.

If you’d like a deeper analysis of an acclaimed flash fiction piece, be sure to review Susan Tepper‘s reasonings about “Young Love”.  Then apply her techniques to your latest piece!

Sometimes, we just need a nudge of encouragement to keep us going.  Take note of Sarah Crysl Akhtar’s advice in “What I Am Is Me“, and then post it on your fridge…your desktop…your forehead…

Of course, some of the best opportunities for expanding your skills is just in seeing how others achieve success.  Take a look at these excellent interviews of authors and editors in the writing community:

This month’s offerings were so numerous, it was like a college course in thirty days!  Be sure to take advantage of the great tips from our contributing authors, and keep writing!


Karen Nelson is a writer and teacher in Southwest Missouri, specializing in educational and nonfiction works. She is a staff writer for Flash Fiction Chronicles, Curriculum Coordinator for Goldminds Publishing, author of four books and numerous stories and articles, and serves on the boards of various writing and literacy organizations.  When staring at a computer screen gets to be too much, Karen wanders outside to her chickens, rabbits, and miniature horse, who are always good for gaining perspective.