Flash Fiction: for writers, readers, editors, publishers, & fans


The Definitive Flash: 50 Shades of Flash, Day 12

The Defin­i­tive Flash

Fifty Shades of (Very) Short Fic­tion


For cer­tain, almost always, rarely nev­er, flash fic­tion demands a word count, not the out­dat­ed kind once done by count­ing words per line of type and mul­ti­ply­ing by the num­ber of lines, but the pre­cise count of tech­nol­o­gy. 100 exact­ly. Not a word more than 750. At some point (500 or less?) it’s microfic­tion, a few words more it’s sud­den fic­tion, then flash. Or maybe it’s flash then sud­den? At a 1000+ word count, it’s most like­ly, but not always, going to the short sto­ry edi­tor. Go fig­ure.


In writ­ing of the one-line poem, Michael McFee argues that it “is not a longer poem con­densed, a larg­er block of text whit­tled down.” It is, he asserts, “a prod­uct of delib­er­ate pres­sure, not a casu­al or acci­den­tal cre­ation.” The author must “con­ceive of his mate­r­i­al that way, must write it that way, and must mean for the audi­ence to hear and/or read it that way.” The word count require­ment of flash fic­tion mis­leads authors into think­ing of flash as a short sto­ry told with few­er words. It might be that. It might be oth­er things, too.


The best flash writ­ers per­haps set out to write flash fic­tion. They don’t end up with a flash piece because some­thing longer failed. Maybe some­times they do. I’d like to think they begin with the idea of brevi­ty, a very tiny space, think of how large­ly they might fill it.


It’s a cop-out, in the cur­rent world of post­mod­ern sen­si­bil­i­ties, to say that noth­ing can be defined. In such a world, bound­aries don’t exist, but what is more bound­ed than flash fic­tion, con­fined by that con­tin­u­al count of word after word. Flash fic­tion ticks, like bombs and clocks, aware of its end before its birth. What is flash fic­tion?

It’s this. And more. And less.


Fifty Words on Fifty Def­i­n­i­tions of Flash

(def­i­n­i­tions from Dictionary.com)


      1.   a brief, sud­den burst of bright light: a flash of light­ning.

Out of noth­ing, first struck and burn­ing out simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, into the mid­dle of things, when the ho-hum turns extra­or­di­nary, gone “ere one can say it light­ens.” Brief, sud­den, burst­ing, and bright. Crack­ling with ener­gy. The sto­ry expends itself–and the world returns as it appeared that brief, unblind­ing moment before.

      2.   a sud­den, brief out­burst or dis­play of joy, wit, etc.

In flash, the writer has lit­tle time for con­sol­i­da­tion. The flash releas­es some­thing pent up–and that thing beats its way toward the near­est exist. Flash might be the thing itself instead of its rep­re­sen­ta­tion. It might be the very thing you wish you hadn’t said. But there it is, beat­ing.

      3.   a very brief moment; instant: I’ll be back in a flash.

In life, the “in a flash” always ends up being longer than promised. In writ­ing, flash keeps its promise of brevi­ty and instance. It’s back before you have time to miss it, unlike the lover whom you’re wait­ing for, still, as the movie begins and jujubes stick to your enam­el.


      4.   Infor­malflash­light.

Some pre­fer what the light emits; oth­ers what it omits. There’s always an ele­phant in the room, though, and the light of flash might not be able to shine upon all of its parts. The tusks might be too obvi­ous for some; the toe­nail, too obscure. The tail, just right. 

      5.    super­fi­cial, mere­tri­cious, or vul­gar showi­ness; osten­ta­tious dis­play.       

Every flash risks super­fi­cial­i­ty, a dis­play of how lit­tle it takes to be a writer, how easy it is to get some­thing down. Prompts go up, hours lat­er flash after flash on dis­play. If they are bril­liant, they are as new­ly mint­ed coins, at least as shiny, worth some­times more. 

      6.   Also called news flash. Jour­nal­ism. a brief dis­patch sent by a wire ser­vice.

Again, “brief” becomes defin­ing, a brief bit of news, writ­ten in a rush, dis­patched, sent off to far-off places. And what news might flash trans­mit? Some­thing urgent per­haps. Not like Gas Prices Sky­rock­et! More like “Lone­ly!” And the rest fol­lows, before any­one has the time to say, “So what?”

      7.   Pho­tog­ra­phy. a. bright arti­fi­cial light thrown briefly upon a sub­ject dur­ing an expo­sure. b. flash lamp. c. flash­bulb. d. flash­tube.

Expo­sure! Unlike “Girls Gone Wild” but instead, a sharp light reveal­ing the tini­est imper­fec­tions. As Gul­liv­er per­ceived, a tiny thing among giants, unable to bear the sights. A flash going off dur­ing a show. Why now? What does it hope to cap­ture? 


      8.   the sud­den flame or intense heat pro­duced by a bomb or oth­er explo­sive device.

Hitch­cock said to show the audi­ence the bomb right away, but some flash writ­ers pre­fer the thing to go off unan­nounced. It’s not always a bomb that appears to give flash a twist. Guns, acci­dents, ghosts, even aliens pop up in end­ings. I say, “Show da bomb; be da bomb.”


      9.   a sud­den thought, insight, inspi­ra­tion, or vision.

The myth of epipha­nies, that they must be found in the world, incit­ed by insta­bil­i­ty, earned through action. What of the insight found in still­ness and absence? The vision of peace pipes? The thought emerg­ing from watch­ing birch­es bent by win­ter? Can flash cap­ture that and still engage a read­er?

      10.  Slangrush.

Writ­ers, not flash­es, rush to the end, the end of the anx­i­ety of uncer­tain­ty, of won­der­ing in all tens­es, “Is it good? Was it good? Will it be good?” And thus we rush on, know­ing it all must end soon, and that maybe, just maybe, we can last ’til then.


      11. Met­al­lur­gy. a. a ridge of met­al left on a cast­ing by a seam between parts of the mold. b. a ridge formed at the edge of a forg­ing or weld where excess met­al has been squeezed out.

What forms from squeez­ing out excess; what is left after com­pres­sion. Imag­ine here per­haps of what remains after a story’s been cast­ed; imag­ine the part some­one thought didn’t mat­ter. Imag­ine it is.


      12. Pok­er. a hand con­tain­ing all five suits in a
game played with a five-suit pack.

What would be that fifth
suit? Write about it. Like now.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *