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Flash fiction

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Flash fiction is a brief fictional narrative[1] that still offers character and plot development. Identified varieties, many of them defined by word count, include the six-word story;[2] the 280-character story (also known as "twitterature");[3] the "dribble" (also known as the "minisaga", 50 words);[2] the "drabble" (also known as "microfiction", 100 words);[2] "sudden fiction" (750 words);[4] "flash fiction" (1,000 words); and "microstory".[5]

Some commentators have suggested that flash fiction possesses a unique literary quality in its ability to hint at or imply a larger story.[6]


Flash fiction has roots going back to prehistory, recorded at origin of writing, including fables and parables, notably Aesop's Fables in the west, and Panchatantra and Jataka tales in India. Later examples include the tales of Nasreddin, and Zen koans such as The Gateless Gate.

In the United States, early forms of flash fiction can be found in the 19th century, notably in the figures of Walt Whitman, Ambrose Bierce, and Kate Chopin.[7]

In the 1920s flash fiction was referred to as the "short short story" and was associated with Cosmopolitan magazine; and in the 1930s, collected in anthologies such as The American Short Short Story.[8]

Somerset Maugham was a notable proponent, with his Cosmopolitans: Very Short Stories (1936) being an early collection.

In Japan, flash fiction was popularized in the post-war period particularly by Michio Tsuzuki (都筑道夫).

In 1986 Jerome Stern at the Florida State University organized the World's Best Short-Short Story Contest for stories of less than 250 words. Michael Martone, the first winner, received $100 and a crate of Florida oranges as the prize.[9] The Southeast Review continues the contest but has increased the maximum to 500 words.[10] In 1996 Stern published Micro Fiction: an anthology of really short stories drawn, in part, from the contest.[11]

It was not until 1992, however, that the term "flash fiction" came into use as a category/genre of fiction.[12][13] It was coined by James Thomas,[14] who together with Denise Thomas and Tom Hazuka edited the 1992 landmark anthology titled Flash Fiction: 72 Very Short Stories,[15] and was introduced by Thomas in his Introduction to that volume.[16][17] Since then the term has gained wide acceptance as a form, especially in the W. W. Norton Anthologies co-edited by Thomas: Flash Fiction America (W.W. Norton & Co., 2023), Flash Fiction International (W.W. Norton & Co., 2015), Flash Fiction Forward (W.W. Norton & Co., 2006), and Flash Fiction: 72 Very Short Stories (W.W. Norton & Co., 1992).

In 2020 the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin established the first curated collection of flash fiction artifacts in the United States.[18]


Practitioners have included Saadi of Shiraz ("Gulistan of Sa'di"), Bolesław Prus,[5][19] Anton Chekhov, O. Henry, Franz Kafka, H.P. Lovecraft, Yasunari Kawabata, Ernest Hemingway, Julio Cortázar, Daniil Kharms,[20] Arthur C. Clarke, Richard Brautigan, Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Fredric Brown, John Cage, Philip K. Dick and Robert Sheckley.[21]

Hemingway also wrote 18 pieces of flash fiction that were included in his first short-story collection, In Our Time (1925). It is disputed whether (to win a bet), as alleged, he also wrote the flash fiction "For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn".[22]

Also notable are the 62 "short-shorts" which comprise Severance, the thematic collection by Robert Olen Butler in which each story describes the remaining 90 seconds of conscious awareness within human heads which have been decapitated.[23]

Contemporary English-speaking writers well known for their published flash fiction include Kathy Fish, Venita Blackburn, Amber Sparks, Lydia Davis, David Gaffney, Robert Scotellaro, and Nancy Stohlman, Sherrie Flick, Bruce Holland Rogers, Steve Almond, Barbara Henning, Grant Faulkner.

Spanish-speaking literature has many authors of microstories, including Augusto Monterroso ("El Dinosaurio") and Luis Felipe Lomelí ("El Emigrante"). Their microstories are some of the shortest ever written in that language. In Spain, authors of microrrelatos (very short fictions) have included Andrés Neuman, Ramón Gómez de la Serna, José Jiménez Lozano, Javier Tomeo, José María Merino, Juan José Millás, and Óscar Esquivias.[24] In his collection La mitad del diablo (Páginas de Espuma, 2006), Juan Pedro Aparicio included the one-word story Luis XIV, which in its entirety reads: "Yo" ("I"). In Argentina, notable contemporary contributors to the genre have included Marco Denevi, Luisa Valenzuela, and Ana María Shua.

The Italian writer Italo Calvino consciously searched for a short narrative form, drawing inspiration from Argentine writers Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares and finding that Monterroso's was "the most perfect he could find"; "El dinosaurio", in turn, possibly inspired his "The Dinosaurs".[25]

German-language authors of Kürzestgeschichten, influenced by brief narratives penned by Bertolt Brecht and Franz Kafka, have included Peter Bichsel, Heimito von Doderer, Günter Kunert, and Helmut Heißenbüttel.

The Arabic-speaking world has produced a number of microstory authors, including the Nobel Prize-winning Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz, whose book Echoes of an Autobiography is composed mainly of such stories. Other flash fiction writers in Arabic include Zakaria Tamer, Haidar Haidar, and Laila al-Othman.

In the Russian-speaking world the best known flash fiction author is Linor Goralik.[citation needed]

In the southwestern Indian state of Kerala P. K. Parakkadavu is known for his many microstories in the Malayalam language.[26]

Hungarian writer István Örkény is known (beside other works) for his One-Minute Stories.[27]

Print journals[edit]

A number of print journals dedicate themselves to flash fiction. These include Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine.[28]

Online journals[edit]

Access to the Internet has enhanced an awareness of flash fiction, with online journals being devoted entirely to the style. SmokeLong Quarterly, founded by Dave Clapper in 2003, is "dedicated to bringing the best flash fiction to the web ... whether written by widely published authors or those new to the craft."[29] Other online flash fiction journals include Flash Me Magazine (founded in 2003), Every Day Fiction (founded in 2007), Flash Fiction Online (founded in 2007), wigleaf (founded in 2008) and Flash Fiction Magazine (founded in 2014), not to mention The Webby Award recognized Dribble Drabble Review, founded and edited by Keith Hoerner, MFA.[30]

In a CNN article on the subject, the author remarked that the "democratization of communication offered by the Internet has made positive in-roads" in the specific area of flash fiction, and directly influenced the style's popularity.[31] The form is popular, with most online literary journals now publishing flash fiction.

In the summer of 2017, The New Yorker began running a series of flash fiction stories online every summer.[32]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Catherine Sustana. "What Is Flash Fiction?". About Entertainment. Archived from the original on 2016-11-23. Retrieved 2016-09-06.
  2. ^ a b c Graham (March 8, 2013). "Flash fiction - all you ever wanted to know, but were afraid to ask..." The Bridport Prize. Archived from the original on January 2, 2020. Retrieved September 6, 2016.
  3. ^ Maddie Crum (May 7, 2015). "Twitter Fiction Reveals The Power Of Very, Very Short Stories". The Huffington Post.
  4. ^ Becky Tuch. "Flash Fiction: What's It All About?". The Review Review. Archived from the original on 2019-02-16. Retrieved 2016-09-06.
  5. ^ a b Christopher Kasparek, "Two Micro-Stories by Bolesław Prus", The Polish Review, 1995, no. 1, pp. 99-103.
  6. ^ Swartwood, Robert, "Hint Fiction", (New York: W.W. Norton, 2011)
  7. ^ Roth, Forrest Stephen (2013). Specimen Fiction: The 19th Century Tradition of the American Short-Short Story Critical Essay with Creative Work (Ph.D.). University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
  8. ^ "The American Short Short Story - Google Books". 1933. Retrieved 2015-09-27.
  9. ^ Pate, Nancy (1987-05-10). "Every word counts in writing contest". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved 2024-04-08.
  10. ^ "Art & Writing Contests". Southeast Review. Retrieved April 8, 2024.
  11. ^ Stevens, David (Spring 1998). "Micro Fiction: An Anthology of Really Short Stories by Jerome Stern". Harvard Review (14): 182–184. JSTOR 27561093. Retrieved April 8, 2024.
  12. ^ "Do it in a Flash: An Essay on the History and Definition of Flash Fiction - TSS Publishing". 2018. Retrieved 2023-01-31.
  13. ^ "Flash Fiction Definition and History - ThoughtCo". 2021. Retrieved 2023-01-31.
  14. ^ Robert Shapard (2012). "The Remarkable Reinvention of Very Short Fiction". World Literature Today. 86 (5): 46–49. doi:10.7588/worllitetoda.86.5.0046. JSTOR 10.7588/worllitetoda.86.5.0046. S2CID 163747936. Retrieved 2023-01-31.
  15. ^ Masih, Tara L., ed. (2009). The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction. Rose Metal Press. p. xxxvi.
  16. ^ "What is Flash Fiction?: Robert Shapard & James Thomas - Flash Fiction". 2013. Retrieved 2023-01-31.
  17. ^ "Flexible Borders". SmokeLong Quarterly. 2016. Retrieved 2023-01-31.
  18. ^ Allen, Christopher (April 27, 2020). "America's First Curated Collection of Flash Fiction Artifacts". SmokeLong Quarterly.
  19. ^ Zygmunt Szweykowski, Twórczość Bolesława Prusa, p. 99.
  20. ^ Branislav Jakovljevic, Daniil Kharms: Writing and the Event (Northwestern UP, 2009), p. 6
  21. ^ "Flash fiction: 'Intense, urgent and a little explosive'". Irishtimes.com. 2011-10-26. Retrieved 2015-09-27.
  22. ^ "Ernest Hemingway - Baby Shoes". snopes.com. 29 October 2008. Retrieved 2015-09-27.
  23. ^ "Dead Heads". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-09-27.
  24. ^ Valls, Fernando (2012). Mar de pirañas. Menoscuarto. ISBN 978-8496675896. Retrieved 19 November 2012.
  25. ^ Weiss, Beno (1993). Italo Calvino. U of South Carolina P. p. 103. ISBN 9780872498587. Retrieved 9 November 2012.
  26. ^ Parakkadavu, PK (2013). Through the Mini-Looking Glass. Translated by VK Sreelesh. Kozhikode: Lead Books.
  27. ^ One Minute Stories (HLO.hu)
  28. ^ Bente Lucht (November 17, 2014). "Flash Fiction: Literary fast food or a metamodern (sub)genre with potential?". Human And Social Sciences at the Common Conference. Archived from the original on November 11, 2022. Retrieved September 6, 2016.
  29. ^ Hart, Melissa (March 2016). "Smoke Break: Guest Editors Choose Flash Fiction for Online Mag". The Writer.
  30. ^ Pratt, Mary K. (2009-05-05). "How Technology Is Changing What We Read". PCWorld. Archived from the original on 2011-07-01. Retrieved 2015-09-27.
  31. ^ "Six of the best: CNN readers tell us their stories". Cnn.com. 2008-08-18. Retrieved 2010-05-02.
  32. ^ "Flash Fiction A series of very short stories for the summer". The New Yorker.


External links[edit]