Flash Fiction

I’d never heard of Flash Fiction before one of my fellow BAWL members told me what it was. Flash fiction may be a label I never knew before but I certain have read plenty of it because it is probably as old as human language, going back to our origins of writing. Fables, parables, Zen koans, and even Aesop’s Fables are considered flash fiction.

According to wikipedia in the 1920s flash fiction was referred to as the “short short story” and was associated with Cosmopolitan magazine.  In the early 1930s Galleon Press was one of the publishers of anthologies of short short stories and by 1936 Cosmopolitan had Somerset Maugham’s Cosmopolitans: Very Short Stories.

Of course this isn’t a USA art form. In the 40s, post World War 2 Japan had Michio Tsuzuki, born on 6 July 1929 in Tokyo, Japan.

Other famous flash fiction writers include Walt Whitman, Ambrose Bierce, Kate Chopin, Franz Kafka, Augusto Monterroso, Ernest Hemingway, Anton Checkov, O. Henry, H.P. Lovecraft, Naguib Mahfouz, Kurt Vonnegut, PK Parakkadavu and so many more.

Interestingly enough, Ernest Hemingway has been credited with the six-word story that read: For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn.  As the story goes…

Apparently, Ernest Hemingway was lunching at Luchow’s with a number of writers and claimed that he could write a short story that was only six words long. Of course, the other writers balked. Hemingway told each of them to put ten dollars in the middle of the table; if he was wrong, he said, he’d match it. If he was right, he would keep the entire pot. He quickly wrote six words down on a napkin and passed it around; Papa won the bet. The words were “FOR SALE, BABY SHOES, NEVER WORN.” A beginning, a middle and an end!source

However, according to that source it is doubtful that the event ever happened as noted above.  More likely is that it was an advertisement from the early 1900s, see the above linked source for more details.
Again according to wiki, the official term “flash fiction” did not become an actual category and genre until 1992. “It was coined by James THomas, who together with Denise Thomas and Tom Hazuka edited the landmark anthology titled Flash Fiction: 72 Very Short Stories.

“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.”

Flash fiction has subcategories that include:

  • The 280-character story which is also known as “twitterature” due to tweets having a 280 character limit.
  • The “dribble”, also known as the “minisaga” which has 50 words.
  • The “microstory” which had about 350 words
  • The “drabble”, also known as the sudden fiction which has 750 words
  • Flash Fiction, in general, has about 1,000 to 1,500 words.

According to the MasterClass website:

Flash fiction stories share a number of common characteristics.

  • Brevity. Flash fiction compresses an entire story into the space of a few paragraphs. There is no defined word count for flash fiction, but some commonly used word limits in flash fiction range from just six words on the short end to around 1,000 words on the longer end.
  • A complete plot. A flash fiction story is indeed a story, with a beginning, middle, and end. This sets it apart from a prose poem or vignette, which can explore an emotion, memory, or thought without a plot.
  • Surprise. Great flash fiction often incorporates surprise, usually in the form of a twist ending or an unexpected last line. This is not a gimmick: the aim is to prompt the reader to think deeply about the true meaning of the story.   


You can also “Learn How To Write Flash Fiction in 6 Steps” at that MasterClass source.

Want to read some examples?

  • The New Yorker, August 2022 Flash Fiction, A series of very short stories for the summer.  Click title of story in order to read it.
  • Ten Micro-fiction Stories.
    “Every man is limited to a certain number of words in his lifetime… Some of these words might also be words that you whisper in a foreign language that you don’t even know, in a dream, for example”: By Alex Epstein, translated from the Hebrew by Becka Mara McKay

I have to say that not only have I read loads of Flash Fiction, I’ve written lots of it too!