Let’s Welcome Flash Fiction To The Party

Jessi Lewis

Staff Writer

Jessi Lewis has her MFA in fiction and an MA in Writing and Rhetoric. She was one of the founding editors of Cheat River Review and now works to bring her own fiction, poetry and essays to eyes each month.     Twitter: @jessiwrit

In my infinitely nerdy reading obsessions, I’ve come across a genre of fiction that so many readers scoff at, while I’ve become romantically involved with it. You’ve probably heard of flash fiction, or some of its relatives: Short-short fiction is generally defined as fictional stories written in less than 1,000 words. Flash fiction is usually considered to be even shorter, often 750 words or less (though this number is not set in stone). Then there’s Micro Fiction, which is commonly defined as even fewer words—when O Magazine made a call for micro fiction, their word count request was 300 words or less. There are many labels for length-controlled work, and the constraints can go as low as single sentence stories, like Ernest Hemingway’s famously depressing short:

“For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.”

Readers commonly view short-shorts as writing exercises rather than interesting reading material—just a challenge for writers to hone their craft. What’s not realized by most readers is how good these little nuggets of narrative can be. They can be emotionally devastating, overwhelmingly brutal and lovely all at once. Yep, I might be getting a little too excited about this, but I’ve found that flash fiction writing is the lesser known genre that’s perfect for brief reading moments. Public transportation reading, for example, has not been the same since I started reading flash fiction anthologies. Bold plot lines meet poetic control, and then come to a close before you reach your bus stop.

Popularized early on in the States by Edgar Allan Poe and Washington Irving, the genre took a nosedive in acceptance until recently with the rise of online reading and digital readers. There are literary magazines publishing only flash and there are anthologies sneaking into the popular book market.

But, it’s hard to find an audience for small pieces. Flash fiction is also wrongly, yet often, considered snobbish. Or at least, that’s the stereotype of a genre with respect but without readers.

We should probably know by now that the stereotypes attributed with certain brands of writing only holds readers back and pigeonholes certain fiction. Don’t let naysayers keep you from checking this genre out—and don’t completely count out the potential of those writers.

You can consider Buzzfeed’s very brief recommendations, an online literary journal’s selection, like Flash Fiction Online, or O Magazine’s chosen work. You can even check out some of the more popular anthologies like Flash Fiction Forward: 80 Very Short Stories. Either way, don’t let this form of writing pass you by without giving it a chance.

Flash fiction has a bold presence—it enters a party, drops an interesting zinger, and then leaves the crowd before looking desperate.