Nostalgia City Mysteries

Mark S. Bacon

Tag Archives: Tara Masih

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

drabble

byte

ficlet

69er

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.

Hyperlinks:

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

Flash of genius part 2:                            Short attention span theory

It can’t all be blamed on Google, but our attention spans are getting shorter.

What was I talking about? Oh yeah. According to a recent BBC report, university students have a 10-minute attention span. Does that seem like a short time? The Associated Press reported in 2010 that many advertisers were switching from 30-second commercials to 15-second spots in an attempt to hold viewers’ flagging attention.

Still reading? Good. A recent story in the UK Guardian, cited a report showing that up to 32 percent of consumers will abandon a slow-loading website within one to five seconds.

“People have been saying that computers are making us dumber basically since computers existed,” writes Adam Clark Estes in The Atlantic Wire. “Then the Internet came, eventually bringing Google into existence, and any hope for the future of intelligent life spiraled off into cyberspace.”

As Estes notes, in 2008, Atlantic writer Nicholas Carr got everyone’s attention with an article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid.” He followed it up with a book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains. Both the article and the book provide abundant examples of how otherwise educated, intelligent people are having a hard time maintaining focus on a lengthy piece of writing.

Enter flash fiction? Not necessarily. Tara L. Masih a flash fiction writer and editor of The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction, thinks that a short attention span is nothing new. “The reality is that our attention span has been getting shorter and shorter for a long time, due in large part to the Industrial Revolution,” said Masih in an email interview. “So…shorter pieces in periodicals did cater to a population that had less time to read and was more literate in general.”

As attention spans grew shorter in the 19th century, says Masih, it created an opportunity for writers such as O. Henry and Edgar Allen Poe to make a living with short stories.

Regardless of when our ability to grasp more than a paragraph or two at one time started to fade, the Internet, cell phones, 15-second commercials and a variety of other electronic distractions seemed to have paved the way for flash fiction. Even though short stories have been around for a century or two, the term flash fiction seems to have arrived just in time. (See previous blog entry.)

Says Grant Faulkner, editor of the flash fiction magazine 100 Word Story. ”I think [flash fiction] is popular because of the distracted nature of our society these days. It’s something people can get their minds around.”

Next: How well do you know writers of short mystery fiction?

Hyperlinks:
Students’ 10-minute attention span
Is Google Making Us Stupid?
the Atlantic Wire
100 Word Story:
The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction

%d bloggers like this: