One of my favorite forms of short fiction is flash fiction, also known as short short fiction, sudden fiction, and quick fiction. Personally, I like the term flash. It just sounds like more fun to me.
Depending on the journal or anthology, flash fiction can be stories under 1000 words, 500 words or less, or in some cases, as short as 100 words. Probably everyone has read the famous short short story by Ernest Hemingway, which tells a tale in only 6 words: “For Sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.” One of my favorites is from Margaret Atwood: “Longed for him. Got him. Shit.”
I love writing flash. It’s more like sculpting than writing to me. Words are chiseled and carved off until the story in its most compact and true shape is revealed. Many writers feel it’s closer to poetry than fiction, and I tend to agree, though I’ve never been much of a poet.
If you’re interested in trying your hand at flash, read as much as you can to understand the form, the rhythm and the flow of it. Kim Chinquee is a master of flash fiction – Google her. Her stories are amazing, and personally I think she’s the best out there right now working in flash. There are many journals that publish flash fiction, lots of them online. Smokelong Quarterly, Pank, Quick Fiction, Vestal Review, monkeybicycle, onepagestories, and Prime Number Magazine are all journals where you’ll find great flash fiction. Then there are anthologies like Fast Forward (I was in volume 3) and Sudden Fiction. And Steve Almond, a hero of mine, has a nifty little book of flash fiction and flash essays on writing you really should check out, too.
Not too long ago WriterHouse offered a class on flash fiction, and there is talk of offering it again soon. Check the website periodically or sign up for the newsletter for updates.
If you want to write flash, read it, and then read it some more, and then write, and keep writing. And have fun with it. I do. It’s my reward when I’ve been working hard at a longer piece. But you don’t have to be a writer to love flash. Readers, you should check it out, too. A well-written piece of flash fiction is a thing of concentrated beauty, and will stay with you long after you put it down.