How long is it and what do you call it?
Essentially, flash fiction is a short story. A very short story. But writers, editors and publishers seem to have different ideas about how many words constitute a story. And they can’t always agree on what to call it, either.
Flash: The International Short-Story Magazine, one of the premier publications in the genre, lists on its home page 15 different names for the tiny snippets of fiction:
Grant Faulkner, editor of the literary magazine 100 Word Story, is not a fan of some of the alternate titles for flash fiction. The San Francisco Bay area resident says drabble, “doesn’t sound like fun. Micro sounds too much like a computer and nano takes the fun out of writing it.” Stories in his magazine are called flash fiction.
“In China,” says Pamelyn Casto in her online article, Flashes on the Meridian, “this type of writing has several interesting names: little short story, pocket-size story, minute-long story, palm-sized story….”
One journal well known among the flash cognoscenti is the Smoke Long Quarterly. The publication takes its name from another label for flash fiction, smoke-long story. This title, possibly also from the Orient, means that you can read a story in the time it takes you to smoke a cigarette (cough).
Ultimately, although alternate names abound, flash fiction is the most popular, most accepted title. Most colleges and universities that offer a course in flash fiction, call it just that. Tara L. Masih, a writer of flash fiction and editor of The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction, obviously embraces the label, but she qualifies it depending on the length of a story.
Flash fiction, she says in a recent email interview, includes stories up to 1,500 words. Tiny variants should be called micro fiction, says Masih.
Indeed, the acceptable length of flash fiction is more contested than what to call it. Length of flash fiction will be taken up in my next entry.