What is flash fiction?

What is flash fiction?? Mark Twain (or maybe Cicero) apparently said that if he had had more time, he would have written a shorter story... With only several thousand words in which to tell their stories, short fiction is an art form in which every word counts. There is little room for anything which doesn't serve the story. A great short story is like a slap in the face, brief enough to devour in one sitting, leaving the reader gasping at what can be done in just a few pages.

Flash fiction refines this even further. Also known as short shorts, sudden fiction, micro fiction, postcard fiction, prose poems, these terms refer to stories which are less than 1000 words long, and often much much shorter. Every word, every comma, every line break is crucial in these tiny fictions. While their extreme brevity allows for a looser definition of the beginning-middle-end story structure, these are not "fragments", they are complete unto themselves.

This isn't something new, something invented by the "Internet generation" to fit onto a tiny cellphone screen or to suit increasingly hectic lifestyles. Jorge Luis Borges, Margaret Atwood, Richard Brautigan, Lydia Davis and Raymond Carver are just some of the "big names" whose flash fiction is widely available.

Sometimes resembling poetry in the way their language twists and turns, flash fiction is increasing in popularity and can be found in literary magazines online and in print across the world, in many languages. In China, these tiny fictions are called "smoke-long" because they can be read in the time it takes to smoke a cigarette!

Many of the fictions in my new collection, My Mother Was An Upright Piano: Fictions, would fit into the category of flash fiction. You can read some of the stories here. Half the stories in my first collection, The White Road and Other Stories would probably also fall into this category. Read two examples: Plaits and I am a Camera.

More on flash fiction: Visit FlashFiction.net and
the Flash Fiction Chronicles blog for many articles, discussions and flash fiction resources, Writing-World's article Flash What?, Writing Flash Fiction on The Fiction Factor.

A few recommendations of short story collections containing flash
to whet your appetite

Sudden Fiction and Sudden Fiction (continued) edited by Robert Shapard, James Thomas. Classic anthologies of flash fiction.

The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis by Lydia Davis. Read the Short Review's review.

Feeding Strays by Stefanie Freele. Read The Short Review's review.

Breaking it Down by Rusty Barnes. Read The Short Review's review.

Black Tickets by Jayne Anne Phillips. Read The Short Review's review.

All Over by Roy Kesey. Read The Short Review's review.

The Sky is a Well by Claudia Smith. Read The Short Review's review.

The Half Life of Songs by David Gaffney. Read The Short Review's review.

A selection of literary magazines featuring flash fiction:

A cappella Zoo



Cafe Irreal



Corium Magazine



Every Day Fiction





Fractured West

Going Down Swinging

Greatest Uncommon Denominator

The Hiss Quarterly

Ink, Sweat and tears


Locus Novus

Mad Hatter's Review


Night Train

Notes from theUnderground



The Pedestal Magazine

Quick Fiction

The Ranfurly Review




Six little things

Sleeping Fish


Stinging Fly


The Vestal Review