Nostalgia City Mysteries

Mark S. Bacon

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Faulkner’s fresh look at flash fiction

Everyone has his or her idea of what constitutes flash fiction.  I’ve noted this before.  Defining flash fiction by word length seems the easy way to do it.  Problem is, few editors and writers can agree on the various labels to attach to say, 100-word stories, 1,000-word stories or even 25-word stories.

Flash fiction, however, is more than numbers and no one has explained that better than Grant Faulkner, editor of “100 word story,” in a recent New York Times op-ed piece.   Talking about his introduction to the miniature genre, Faulker says, “Most of my writing life has been a training ground of ‘more,’ so I rarely conceived of less.”  But when a friend of his suggested he try a 100-story, he was at first exasperated.  “At best, I could chisel a story down to 150 words,” he writes, “but I was frustrated by the gobs of material I left out.”

This frustration led Faulkner to examine his writing habits and eventually he discovered “a different kind of storytelling.”  The balance of his article beautifully describes flash fiction in qualitative and rather than quantitative terms and, perhaps without intending to, makes the case that flash should be an integral part of a comprehensive literary education.

“Flash allows literature to be a part of our everyday life,” he writes, “even if we are strange multitasking creatures addled by a world that demands more, more, more.”

The New York Times used Faulkner’s article as the basis for a language arts lesson plan on flash fiction, part of its Learning Network.  The lesson plan references a relatively recent book edited by Robert Swartwood, “Hint Fiction: An Anthology of Stories in 25 Words or Fewer.”  In his introduction, Swartwood establishes a hierarchy of story length: sudden fiction, flash fiction, micro fiction, drabble and dribble, the latter being 50 words.   Obviously, his final category is hint fiction of 25 words.

“Hint fiction,” he says, “should not be complete by it having a beginning, middle and end.  Instead it should be complete by standing by itself as its own little world.”

Twenty five words seems a bit too short for a story.  But not too short for a hint of one?



Going long.  Going Short. by Grant Faulkner

Flash fiction lesson plan

Hint Fiction edited by Robert Swartwood

Flash!  Quick fiction is spreading

It comes in drabbles and dribbles.  Ernest Hemingway perfected it.  Hundreds of publications are devoted to it.  And one young man in Indiana wears his on the back of his jacket.

Introducing flash fiction, short short stories that end almost as soon as they’re begun.   This literature in miniature is a new writing discipline, the subject of writing courses at universities from Stanford to Cambridge and a growing social phenomenon that may owe its popularity to our Google-induced short attention spans.

“It’s a really great genre for online reading,” says Grant Faulkner, editor of 100 Word Story, an online fiction magazine.  “Flash fiction can fit on a Facebook page.  It can fit into email newsletters.”sepia typewriter keys

Faulkner started the magazine about 17 months ago with his co-editor Lynn Mundell.   According to, a website that matches writers with publishers, Faulkner’s magazine is one of hundreds of online and print magazines that publish flash fiction.   Boston Literary Magazine, edited by Robin Stratton, is another.  Stratton uses the terms drabbles and dribbles to refer to the 100- and 50- word stories, respectively, her magazine publishes.

A whole story in only 100 words?  “People do tell a complete story in 100 words,” says Stratton.  “I have some great writers and they can really do it.”

Of course 100 words do not necessarily define flash fiction.  Although many publications limit writers to 100 words, others stipulate different word counts.  There are online magazines that restrict writers to 66 words, 55 words and a few limit writers to a certain number of characters.

“There’s a number of different forms of flash fiction, ways that people have interpreted it,” says Faulkner, “360 words, 500 words or 1000 words, with prominent authors like Lydia Davis and Hemingway himself.  It has a really rich tradition and it’s becoming so popular now.”

One measure of that popularity is the proliferation of flash fiction courses at college and universities.  At Cambridge University the course is called, flash fiction: unlocking the writer within.  At Stanford University the class is, topics in intermediate fiction writing: flash fiction.

Another measure of flash fiction’s popularity is the number of submissions that Faulkner and Stratton receive.  Boston Literary Magazine receives hundreds of submissions every week, says Stratton, so many so that she recently had to stop accepting submissions for a couple of months.  Faulkner, who with Mundell operates 100 Word Story from the San Francisco Bay area, says he receives submissions from all over the United States and foreign countries.  Some of his submissions come from students in creative writing courses.

Flash fiction also is getting around in places other than publications.   Simon Jacobs, a 21-year-old self-described “young writer of no particular renown” edits the Safety Pin Review, a flash fiction journal featuring stories of 30 words or less.   In addition to touting a retweet by writer Margaret Atwood on his website, Jacobs wears flash fiction.

Individual stories from his journal are hand painted on bits of cloth and safety pinned to the back of his jacket.  He wears the story for a week.  Jacobs’ friends and followers also wear Safety Pin Review stories on their backs.

Perhaps the next place you’ll be exposed to this popular fiction genre will be at the check-out line of the supermarket…on the back of the guy in front of you.


Note on hyperlinks  –  Hyperlinks can be annoying.   In an upcoming installment  I will talk about how reading on the Internet is contributing to our shorter attention spans and generally making dunderheads out of us.   Hyperlinks are a convenient way to find more information about a topic, discover a new resource, etc., and of course they are an element of SEO, important to bloggers.  But hyperlinks in the middle of stories (posts if you must) invite the reader to abandon his train of thought–weak though it may be–to virtually dash off in another direction, possibly never to return.  I will therefore put all hyperlinks at the end of my stories and invite you to visit the sites and sources I cite.

100 Word Story  Flash Fiction magazine edited by Grant Faulkner

Boston Literary Magazine  Robin Stratton’s Beantown literary magazine

Safety Pin Review  A flash fiction journal with a different approach to the genre

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