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Flash fiction

Flash fiction

Bookchat: Flash fiction – kerpow! (and events July 9 onwards)

Yes, it’s very short. Condensed and explosive. Reader reads. Reader expands and story lingers. That’s how it works but how do you write a piece like that? Angela J. Phillip explores the form of the flash, dribble, drabble, micro – or the tiny tiny story with the long life.

Let’s start with a definition from Wikipedia: ‘Flash fiction is a fictional work of extreme brevity that still offers character and plot development.’ Not a very good definition because it omits the crucial part – the effect. The story lingers.

And now after that, I can’t help quoting the flash fiction piece that, apparently, is always quoted. I came across it only recently and it says more in its six words than a whole paragraph or more of any explanation could say.

baby shoes

baby shoes

‘For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.’
Ernest Hemingway

Sparse writing – reader fills in the rest – moving and memorable. It’s more memorable, of course, because the reader has to work at fleshing out the story. The literal meaning leads to much more, all supplied by your own head.

The first question about flash fiction is obviously – how long should it be? 

Answer: how long is a piece of string? (Sorry, I couldn’t resist that. )

The real answer is that it’s usually between 50 and 1,000 words although even these word counts are only approximate. 50 words can be described as a dribble, 100 words as a drabble, 200ish as micro-fiction. It doesn’t matter (and for competitions word count is specified).

What really matters is that it is short. So short that the story form is changed into something condensed. And powerful. But it should not be too short. There should still be some character development and a storyline. And the denouement has to come early (more on that in a minute).

I wondered when I first came across flash fiction whether the form had been generated by the downward change in the ability of human beings to focus their attention generated by the net and its plethora of information all shouting “look at me” and “look at me now!” From recent research, it seems that concentration spans are diminishing ( see Concentration spans are diminishing worldwide) so I thought that these mini-stories might be a consequence of that.

But no, it seems I am wrong. Of course I am wrong because flash fiction has been around since writing began. Aesop’s fables are cited as one example and then there are religious parables from all over the world not to mention many famous writers producing stories of this length including Kafka, Brecht and Naguib Mahfouz (an Egyptian writer who won the Nobel prize for literature in 1988). Just that there’s been a name change. In the past, we didn’t use to call what they wrote ‘flash fiction’.

Writing flash fiction

Writing flash fiction

So now that we’ve established that it’s flashy in the very best sense of the word and also serious, how do you go about producing a piece like that?

Well, here’s the usual answer – first of all, you need to read. So how about ‘21 flash fiction stories to read while you wait anywhere’ from Book Riot? 

And how to do it? Basically, you write a longer piece then chop it down. But there’s much more to it than that if you want it to work well. You have to end your story before the end – round about the middle. This is so that you make your story linger. The best guide I’ve found is a piece in the Guardian written by David Gaffney. Have a look at Stories in your pocket: how to write flash fiction.

So why not read a few? Or have a go at writing one? There are many writing competitions including prestigious ones that include prizes for flash fiction. And if you ever forget what flash fiction is – remember the baby shoes.

Soul Food

‘If music be the food of love, play on,
Give me excess of it; that surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.’

William Shakespeare, from Twelfth Night


Hastings Literary Festival 30 August – 1 September 2019

Sarfraz Manzoor

Sarfraz Manzoor

Sat 31 August 19.00 – 22.00 at Kino Teatr, St Leonards Blinded by the Light a film about a teenager of Pakistani descent growing up in the 80s and finding comfort in Springsteen’s music. It is based on the autobiographical book by Sarfraz Manzoor who will be there to talk about it. Tickets for Blinded by the Light with Sarfraz Manzoor are available from Kino Teatr or by clicking the link on the Hastings LitFest site.
For the full programme for the Hastings Literary Festival, please see: Hastings Litfest Programme

Bookbuster 39 Queens Rd, Hastings
Thurs 18 July, 6 – 9 pm £2 entry Sheer Poetry – an open mic poetry night

Printed Matter Bookshop 185 Queens Rd, Hastings TN34 1RG
Mon 15 July 6 pm Book launch of Moonstomp with Tim Wells.
Mon 22 July 6.30 pm PM Book Club discussing Akala’s Natives

The Bookkeeper Bookshop 1a Kings Rd, St Leonards
Sun 14 July, 7 pm Bronwen Griffiths & Steve Amos will be talking about their new short story/flash fiction collections based on their childhoods/parenting.

The Literary Shed Writing Sessions run by A. Vasudevan
Two-hour weekly writing sessions in safe, creative spaces in Hastings and St Leonards
Thursday 11 July 10 – 12 am (£6) Writer Exchange Session at The Blue Bee, Hastings Old Town
Thursday 18 July, 10–12 am (free) at Stooge Coffee Bar, Hi Store, Trinity, Hastings
On the first Thursday of each month, there is also a writing critique group in which members share work.
For further information, please email:, subject: WRITE-INS.

Writing Courses from CWP with New Writing South
2 year Creative Writing Course
Advanced Writing Course
Autobiography and Life Writing Course
for details on all courses, please see  Creative Writing Programme in collaboration with New Writing South

Taster Sessions on Sat 20 July at Sussex Coast College (next to the station)
Autobiography and Life Writing Programme (2-year) 10.30 am – 12.45 £10 Book here.
Creative Writing Course (2-year – taught in Brighton in 2019) 1.30 pm – 3.45 £10 Book here.

Taster Sessions on Sat 7 September at Sussex Coast College (next to the station)
Autobiography and Life Writing Programme (2-year) 10.30 am – 12.45 £10
Creative Writing Course (2-year taught in Hastings in 2019) and The Advanced Writing Workshops 1.30 pm – 3.45 £10
For further information on the two-year programmes and courses go to

While I was writing this post I kept thinking about what I was doing. How I was writing and why. I came to the conclusion that every piece of prose should be a poem so I wrote a post about it on my personal blog. I’m trying to say that a piece of prose should be a poem in hiding, not look like one. But you might not agree, of course.
Every piece of prose should be a poem.

Well everybody, that’s it for this week. It’s so nice to hear from you when you get in touch. Please do post comments either here or in the Facebook Bookchat group.

Thanks for reading.

Angela J. Phillip

Images from & adapted by Paul Way-Rider
Image of Sarfraz Manzoor supplied by Hastings Literary Festival


Posted 09:00 Tuesday, Jul 9, 2019 In: Hastings Bookchat

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