It’s been a long time since I’ve written about flash fiction here. I’m reminded because my local writer’s organization, High Sierra Writers, asked me to judge its annual flash fiction contest.
This fiction genre is defined generally by length. But few authorities seem to agree on how long a flash fiction story should be. The 100-word limit I use is common, but a variety of print and online magazines and print anthologies restrict flash fiction stories to 500, 1,000, 2,500 or even 5,000 words. SmokeLong Quarterly, an online journal founded nearly 20 years ago, takes its name from the notion that “reading a piece of flash fiction takes about the same length of time as smoking a cigarette.” The editors limit their fiction to 1,000 words—and note they do not condone smoking.
Twitterature, says Wikipedia, is literature limited to 280 characters, the maximum length of posts on Twitter.com. Writers and editors who try to define or explain flash fiction often cite a six-word story reputedly—although not likely—written by Ernest Hemingway: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Regardless, Hemingway did actually write some longer flash fiction, so has Lydia Davis and Margaret Atwood, among many others.
Obviously, the shorter the word limit the greater the challenge to tell a complete story. Some of the shorter flash stories are more collections of thoughts, emotions or observations rather than a traditional beginning-middle-and-end fiction. The best tell a complete story, but require you to think, to fill in some blanks—sometimes obvious ones, sometimes not. Among the finest of the shorter genre appear in the online journal, 100 Word Story.
My flash stories tend to be more literal than literary, philosophical at times, but more frequently with a punch-line or twist ending. I write cop stories and other dramas.
Here are two samples. The first is one of my favorites. It’s buried on my website toward the bottom of the “flash fiction” tab. Both are taken from my book, Cops, Crooks and Other Stories in 100 Words—Revised Edition. Each story contains exactly 100 words.
On the House
Starting her workday baking before sunrise always made Sophie’s concentration sag by 9 a.m., but looking across the counter at a gun barrel got her immediate attention.
“Gimme the money,” the gunman said.
Sophie glanced over the man’s shoulder, moved toward the cash register—then ducked.
The cop standing behind the robber threw him against the counter, as another officer grabbed the gun.
“You gotta be the dumbest crook I ever met,” said the first cop. “Okay, maybe you didn’t see our car in the lot, but really…”
“Thanks, Kelly,” Sophie said. “From now on, doughnuts are on the house.”
Just an Accident
Tim flipped a dashboard switch and a red light blinked. When Larry got in the car, Tim pulled out.
“So,” Larry growled, “whadda want now?”
“You’re abusing her. First, cuts and bruises. Now broken bones?”
“Just an accident. She wants to leave, it’s her choice.”
“She won’t. She’s terrified.”
“Then you stay out of it.”
Tim’s speedometer said 45 mph. He glanced in the mirror, saw no one, then swerved into a concrete wall.
Minutes later, bruised and aching but otherwise unhurt, Tim looked down. “He was my son-in-law. Didn’t believe in seatbelts.”
The policeman nodded. “And his airbag malfunctioned.”
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