Only yesterday I spotted a suspiciously unsolicited email from someone introducing himself as a ‘fellow writer and a Bacon’. Call me stupid, but I always feel a kind of connection to a namesake of any kind, and so (call me stupider) I threw caution to the winds and opened it. Straight away I liked that he didn’t ask me to read his sci-fi-YA-fantasy novella, as many of my unsolicited emailers do. It also helped that he wrote me a polite letter telling me about his family and his interests, and one that showed he’d bothered to look beyond the ‘contact’ page of this website. All of which persuades me he is neither an evil spammer nor a complete nutter but just like he says a writer of flash fiction. Of course I could still be wrong, but now we are on first name terms and I know all about his tea-drinking and football-supporting habits. Even better, he is stepping straight in to the gap in my blog schedule (you didn’t know I had a gap? you didn’t know I had a schedule?) so it’s goodbye from me, and welcome to Mark S. Bacon, who shares no connection with me other than a name and a willingness to talk – or in this case write. Watch out for the American spellings, by the way. (Did I say? He’s from Nevada.)
Take it away, Mr. B.!
Flash, nano, sudden, quick or just very, very short fiction
By Mark S. Bacon
A short story by any other name would still be short. But would it be flash fiction? A relatively new social phenomenon and literary discipline, flash fiction has multiplied in many directions and taken on many other names. Yet a strict definition remains elusive. More than 300 publications are devoted to it. Universities across the English speaking world, from Stanford to Cambridge, are teaching it. And notable writers from Ernest Hemingway to Raymond Carver excelled at the genre. But what do we call it, and how long should the stories be?
Among the more than 300 flash fiction journals and magazines listed in Duotrope.com, a website that matches writers with publications, are a variety of other names for these tiny tales. Nano fiction, fast fiction, micro fiction, sudden fiction, minute fiction, postcard fiction and even smoke-long fiction are some of the ways editors describe their stories. The latter name comes from the idea that you can read a story in the time it takes to smoke a cigarette. Academia seems to favor “flash fiction.” The English Dept. course at Stanford University is called, Topics in Intermediate Fiction Writing: Flash Fiction. At University of Cambridge it’s, Flash Fiction, Unlocking the Writer Within.
How long should it be? That too, depends. I became attracted to stories of exactly 100 words. A friend of mine told me he had assigned 100-word stories as an exercise in a writers’ group he was leading. It seemed a daunting assignment to write a complete story in only 100 words. But I did it. Packing in an intriguing beginning, a protagonist, a challenge and a satisfying conclusion made it all the more challenging to write, but also more rewarding. Since then I’ve discovered an abundance of publications, such as “100 Word Story” and the “Boston Literary Magazine” that specialize in flash fiction of 100 words.
The 100-word limit is common. It’s the length I choose for the stories in my book, “Cops, Crooks & Other Stories in 100 Words,” and the length required by many online publications. But editors at dozens of other flash fiction publications have different ideas. Some ask for 50-word stories. For others it’s 55 words, 66 words, 75 words and a few limit writers to a number of characters. At the other extreme, some anthologies and flash fiction contests look for stories under 1,000 words and some editors consider a 2,000-word story to be flash fiction. Certainly you couldn’t read that in a flash, and the number of smokes you could finish doesn’t bear calculating.
No matter what you call them–other names include short shorts, quick fiction, skinny fiction, microstories and furious fiction–these literary tidbits make for fun, if short-lived, reading.
Thank you Mark. I have to say my excursions into flash fiction have been few and far between, but I do like the odd very short story as well as the short very odd story and will be taking a look at Mark’s writing soon either on his website – where there are more links to flash fiction sites) or in his e-book.
Meanwhile I’m remembering Are You Dave Gorman? So any other Bacons out there? Kevin? Francis? (oops, maybe not) … Don’t be shy!
I feel this show could run and run.