Tuesday, March 3, 2015

LU MFA Foundations: Defining Flash Fiction--Mary Anderson

What is Flash Fiction?

In 1986 the short short story reemerged in the first of many anthologies edited by Robert Shapard and James Thomas. Short shorts were surfacing at the time in literary magazines such as North American Review and Sundog. A separate genre, Sudden Fiction, appeared and then a further shortening of the term evolved, and “flash was coined by James Thomas in 1992, which he defined it as being 250-750 words and debuted in Flash Fiction: 72 Very Short Stories. Shorter than its predecessor sudden fiction, but longer than Jerome Stern’s microfiction, flash is one of the more popular terms used to reference short shorts in the United States.” (xxxvii)

The computer lured back the audience that television stole and it reduced the American attention span even further spawning online magazines and blogs publishing Flash. Plus, its “brief length makes it perfect for viewing online and on hand-held electronics.” (xxxvi)

So far, during its adolescence, sub-genres of Flash Fiction have included: “dribbles (50 words), nanofiction (55 words), drabbles (100 words), quick fiction, fast fiction, microfiction, furious fiction, sudden and flash fiction postcard fiction, napkin fiction (from Esquire online), minute-long stories, smoke-long stories, skinny stories, vest-pocket stories and pill-size stories (from the forties), pocket-size stories, palm-size stories. . .” (xxxvii)

Flash Fiction was a sub-genre of Micr-O Fiction and defined as: “a novel crossed with a haiku,” in The Oprah Magazine (July 2006). Eight stories of 300 words or less were featured, including gems by Antonya Nelson, Stuart Dybek, and Amy Hempel. (xxxvii)

Lindenwood’s Flash Fiction course in the MFA Program, along with Rose Metal Press, bring together the advice of fifty or so experts and offer a primer to its students. Flash Fiction is so much more than a story quantified by a word count. Students in the Program will develop a set of tools that allow them to use image, smart surprise and an economy of language to write and publish Flash stories that, as Robert Shapard suggests, “achieve a depth of vision and human significance without ever wanting to be novel(s).” (89)

Masih, Tara L. Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction: Tips from Editors, Teachers, and Writers in the Field. Brookline, MA: Rose Metal, 2009. Print.


In the LU MFA Foundations series, our faculty members 
discuss or clarify foundational elements of the craft of creative writing.
Other entries in the series are linked here.

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