Nostalgia City Mysteries

Mark S. Bacon

Tag Archives: Grant Faulkner

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

How long is it? Part 2

A short story, by any other name, would still be short.  But would it be flash fiction?  Last time, we looked at the myriad names for flash fiction.  Now we turn to the requisite length for a flash story.   Not surprising, there’s little agreement.

Many editors,  including Grant Faulkner of 100 Word Story,  say flash fiction is 100 words.  Lee Masterson, writing in Writing World,  has a tidy categorization for stories of limited length: up to 100 words, micro-fiction; 100-1,000 words, flash fiction; 1,000-7,500 words, short story, and up to 20,000 words is a novelette.

A neat classification, but many editors say flash fiction encompasses even the tiniest of stories.  Among the many online and print flash fiction journals are those that limit writers to 66 words, 55 words, 50 words, and some limit writers to a specific number of characters.  One writer has called character-limit stories Facebook fiction.  At the short end of the scale, Smith Magazine limits stories to only six words.  Smith has published a variety of books featuring six-word stories, each written by a different person.

At the long end of the scale are those editors who consider flash fiction to reach up to 2,000 words.   It would be difficult to read that many words in a flash.  Vestal Review, which advertises itself as the, “longest running flash fiction magazine in the world,” (it started in 2000), limits flash fiction to 500 words.

 “I don’t think labeling helps anything creative,” says Tara L. Masih,  editor of The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction.  “…people shouldn’t get caught up on word counts and names.”

New England flash fiction writer Doug Mathewson agrees.  “You can’t put a number on it, really,” says the widely published writer and editor of his own journal, blink ink.  “Its not so much a word count as a feeling.  I want [readers] to read it, enjoy it and be done with it.”


100 Word Story

Writing World

Smith Magazine

The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction

Vestal Review

blink ink

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:

flash fiction

micro fiction

sudden fiction

postcard fiction

minute fiction





nano fiction

55 fiction

furious fiction

fast fiction

quick fiction

skinny 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.


Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine

100 Word Story

Flashes on the Meridian

Smoke Long Quarterly

The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction

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