Nostalgia City Mysteries

By Mark S. Bacon

Tag Archives: sudden fiction

A new mystery book—sort of     

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Cops, Crooks & Other Stories in 100 Words was published more than seven years ago—about the time I started this website—and I decided to take another look at the book.  The result of this look is a new edition.  I edited and revised some stories, deleted others and added about a dozen new stories with twist or mystery endings.

Can a 100-word story have a surprise ending? Yes, it’s part of the challenge. As I wrote in the introduction to the previous edition of the book, the challenge to tell a complete story in exactly 100 words is the lure of this genre.

Here is the Amazon link for the ebook:   https://amzn.to/2mIfC0s   It will soon be available at barnesandnoble.com and the other places.

Extremely short, tiny, miniscule bits of fiction have been around for a long time.  Aesop’s fables are a good example. Written in the sixth century BCE, Androcles (and the Lion) contains only 265 words, and The Ant and the Grasshopper uses only 150 words. Ernest Hemingway reputedly wrote a six-word story: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Welcome to flash fiction.  Books and a broad variety of online literary magazines and some print magazines feature these short-shorts. Actually short-shorts is not an appropriate description  as it often refers to short stories of a few pages or more, not a few paragraphs or a few sentences. Flash fiction seems to be the most commonly used name for these snippets of creative writing, although some online magazines refer to micro fiction, nano fiction, sudden fiction, or quick fiction.

As to the best length for flash fiction, there’s little agreement. Even though the 100-word limit is common, a variety of print and online magazines and published anthologies restrict flash fiction stories to 1,000, 2,500, and even 5,000 words. Compared to a 100-word tale, the longer stories could hardly be read in a flash. Wikipedia does little to establish a common length saying, “flash fiction is a fictional work of extreme brevity.”

Journals such as 100 Word Story and 101 Words need no explanation. Some other online publications are looking for what Wikipedia calls twitterature, that is, stories of 280 characters or less. Everyday Fiction sets the limit at 1,000 words but encourages writers who can tell a story in 50.  

Before publishing the first edition of this book I published stories in a variety of online flash fiction literary magazines, including my favorite, 100 Word Story.  Editor Grant Faulkner says the 100-word limit is an arbitrary marker that “forces the writer to question every word.”

It’s a good discipline. A number of years ago a friend of mine told me his writing group was working on an exercise in which they had to tell a story in just 100 words.  I had never heard of flash fiction before and was intrigued.  At first I wrote cop stories, then branched out into the variety of genres represented in the book.  More than half the stories in the new book have to do with detective work, crime, or general law enforcement.  The balance include humor, speculative fiction and a little romance.

Yes, each story contains exactly 100 words.  And you have to know the rules.  Hyphenated words count as one word and titles are not included in the word count. Numerals, even those separated by commas count as one word. The counting function on MS Word seems to have its own rules, so I count by hand as well.

I agree with Faulkner.  This genre makes you question each word.  But now that I’m spending most of my time on novel-length mysteries, I still try to remember the value of each word.

Here’s a sample story from Cops, Crooks & Other Stories in 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.”

—————–

“…it is rather remarkable that the author is able to introduce a cast of characters, set a stage for them to act upon, and play out a scenario—sometimes involving cops and crooks—in which something unexpected happens, all in exactly 100 words.”
MysteriousReviews.com

Today’s flash fiction:

The Blond Bombshell Case

“Nice suit detective, not your usual stakeout grubbies.  So, how’r we coming on the Christine Albright case?”

“I talked to all the victims, lieutenant.   None of the guys will press charges.   They’re either too embarrassed to admit she romanced them out of all their cash, or they think she still loves ‘em.”

“Pretty sad.  She must be a knockout, huh?”

The detective nodded.  “We may never catch her.  Looks like a hopeless case.”

“But I thought someone was working undercover.”

“That would be me.  We’ve had four dates, but so far Chrissy hasn’t asked me for very much money.  Really.”

Flash of genius or product of our shrinking attention span?

Time for some flash fiction background, basics.  Where did it come from and what’s all this about our attention span shrinking?  This two-part entry will first examine the origins of flash fiction, then look at attention spans, the Internet and stories so short you can swallow them whole.

Part 1. Where did it come from?

The term flash fiction is apparently only 20 years old, but the notion of telling a complete story in a number of words fewer than the number of pages some novelists have filled goes back centuries, perhaps millennia.  People have been telling stories ever since the advent of conversation.   Parables, tales, fables were being spread long before Gutenberg.  As to the first printed short fiction, authorities don’t seem to agree.  Certainly early newspapers carried various forms of stories, but most would be classified as journalism rather than fiction.

It wasn’t until the publication of popular magazines in the United States and Europe in the early 1800s that an effective and profitable forum existed for short story writers.   “But what is the first literary text we can point to, classify and declaim with confidence: ‘This is a modern short story’?” writes William Boyd in a 2006 article in Prospect Magazine. “It has been argued that the honor goes to Walter Scott’s story The Two Drovers,  published in Chronicles of the Canongate in 1827.  It’s a convenient starting point….”   But later Boyd says that Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales published in 1837 could be the starting point for modern short stories.

Short stories were frequently published in magazines and anthologies, their popularity waxing and waning into the late 20th century.   Some early short story authors, notably O. Henry, Chekov, Poe and Kafka wrote stories that might have been classified as flash fiction, if the category had existed.

Hemingway, who gets credit for a multitude of literary innovations, published A Very Short Story in 1925.  Weighing in at a little more than 600 words, Papa’s tiny fiction has a beginning, middle and end.  It’s a love story with a World War I soldier as the protagonist and a nurse as his girlfriend.  The ending is unexpected.  My kind of story.

The Hemingway tale is a touchstone in the introduction to a 1992 book,  Flash Fiction, 72 Very Short Stories.   This collection, edited by James and Denise Thomas and Tom Hazuka, is the book that created the term flash fiction and the editors use Hemingway’s story (which they say is “about 750 words”) as the outside limit for the fiction in the anthology.

In the book’s introduction, James Thomas says the term was created to differentiate the under 750-word stories from longer stories published in two previous anthologies he edited under the title, Sudden Fiction, which contains stories of up to five pages long.   In fact, some of the stories in Flash Fiction are under 300 words.  Thomas notes that “public taste for brevity in fiction has fluctuated over the years.”   In the 1940s, he says, very short stories could be found in magazines such as Liberty, but by the mid-1970s, he says, it was unusual to find a story under five pages in respected magazines and literary journals.

The first true flash fiction writer may have been Aesop, in the sixth century BCE.  Given that his stories were not published at the time and that as part of an oral tradition the fables survived in many forms, an approximate word count still can be made using several current versions of the fables.   Androcles (and the Lion) contains only 265 words, and The Ant and the Grasshopper is a mere 150 words.

Next: Part 2. Short attention span theory

Hyperlinks:

Writer William Boyd in Prospect Magazine

Hemingway’s A Very Short Story

Flash Fiction, 72 Very Short Stories

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