I have asked this question before, regarding short stories as a whole (see post here.) But in honour of National Flash Fiction Day and the upcoming competition to be hosted by myself and Anna Meade, I’m going to give a bit of context to the whole thing – especially for those of you who haven’t tried it before…
The common consensus is that flash fiction is anything under 1000 words. There is even a definition of it as being ’55 words; no more and no fewer’. There are many weekly competitions with word count requirements of 100 words, 200 words, five sentences and even one that can only fit on the size of a tweet (140 characters). There is a well know competition called Flash500 (guess how many words in that one) and lots of online anthologies asking for 300 words as a max. Everyone’s definition is a little different, and if you search the internet, you’ll find hundreds of sites dedicated to the art. Take a look at my flash page here for some of the details and examples of my flash. You can also read some great examples of flash on the National Flash Fiction Day writers pages here: click on a writer’s name to read a sample.
For me, it’s not about the word count – I love writing flash. It’s a particular challenge for a writer to tell a complete story in a very short space of time. Flash fiction is not about writing a paragraph or an excerpt. It has to be a complete story, with a beginning, middle and end. That’s not to say that the ending can’t be ambiguous. But there’s an difference between ambiguous and ‘is that it?’ It’s a hard balance to strike. Take this famous example by Ernest Hemmingway:
‘For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.’
This might be the most well known, shortest ever flash fiction – 6 words! And the origins of it are hazy – it’s thought that he wrote it to settle a bar bet… (TIP: Try drinking mojitos/daiquiris prior to writing your flash fiction- if it worked for Hemingway, it can work for you!)
So this is a call to arms: when this contest opens (soon), Anna and I would love to see some entries from writers who’ve never written flash fiction before, and those who have tried it and been too scared to try it again, and OF COURSE we want entries from all you regular aficionados of the form – The Grandmasters of Flash (you know who you are…)
So don’t be shy – just enter! (DISCLAIMER: We promise not to laugh at rubbish attempts (unless they are meant to be funny)).
To recap, the theme is UNEXPECTED FAIRYTALES
Take that as you will. Perhaps it is a fairy tale set in an unexpected place, like a gas station. Perhaps it is a fractured fairytale, a fairy tale turned on its head, a fairy tale that isn’t one till the end. There are fairy tales all around us, should we only care to look.
… so get those story ideas percolating now!