What is ‘Flash Fiction’?

Apart from an excuse to go, ‘ah-aaaarr!’ after saying ‘Flash’, what actually is it?

It is a growing genre.

There are many competitions online for Flash Fiction and many regular outlets both online and in paper-form, where you can submit and get it published.

There seems to be a hunger for it, both to read it and write it.

But what actually is it?

Essentially Flash Fiction seems to be short pieces of writing, varying in length from 6-1,000 words, though usually something like 101, 200 or 300 words.

It is a way to tell a story using as few words as possible.

To do this effectively you have to give enough information to illuminate the subject and the premise, but leave enough for the reader to do so that they have to fill in the blanks and use their imagination to complete the canvas.

It’s not simply about the word count.

The story still has to be there, still has to be told with characters, context and some imagery that ignites the readers imagination.

It’s no good simply lifting a paragraph (or more) from an existing piece to meet a word count.

There may be an idea, gotten from the name, that Flash Fiction is written quickly, dashed off from a spark of a story that just pops in to the writers head and that’s that. And of course sometimes this is true.

But more often than not, exactly the same as with any written piece, the writer will produce something then pore over it to make sure every word is right, that every word is serving the story, that there is no waste.

With Flash fiction this process of honing is even more important. Repetition stands out more, as does lazy use of prose and cliché. You don’t have space to waffle.

Introduce the premise, the characters and the setting with as little as can be, then leave the reader with some work to do in pulling it all together and even extrapolating their own ending.

Not only is it a satisfying thing to do for its own sake, it is a great exercise in choosing words carefully.

Here’s a 101 word story (not including the title) that is one of my efforts – it illustrates some of what I’ve been banging on about:

Last Words

Ernie grinned and cast his line in to the gently flowing river.

The Hospice had been nice, filled with wonderfully caring people, but now this was where he needed to be.

He looked over to his wife Jean, married twenty-five blissful years and this was her first time fishing. Jean smiled warmly at Ernie.

The sun shone and a cool breeze stirred the trees as Ernie recast his line.

Jean let out a laugh and a giggle as her line twitched, ‘I’ve got one Ernie!’

Ernie chuckled softly, his eyes closed as his rod slipped quietly from his hand, ‘bloody typical…’