The definitions of flash fiction can depend on the magazine publishing it, but generally it is considered to be a story told in less than 1,000 words. Many will argue that flash must be under 500 words, and others under 300. I’ve seen some flash stories of 144 characters –thanks to Twitter, so you can see there isn’t really much consensus other than it is short.
The fuzzy aspect about flash fiction is how much *story* do you need? It needs to make sense and be able to stand alone, but it doesn’t need to have strong character development, in-depth world building or three acts. It doesn’t mean it can’t have those things, but readers are not expecting them.
That might make it sound like flash fiction is easy write, but in much the same way as poetry always looks easier than it actually is, flash requires you to hone your economy of phrase. You are not going to paint your word picture with a bunch of adjectives and flowery description. You have to use shortcuts without resorting to clichés and you need to edit, edit, edit until you have re-touched nearly every word on the screen to make sure it needs to be there.
Finally, I think it is really important to have a satisfactory ending. A lot of flash does end with the big reveal or twist, but it doesn’t need to. What it does need to do is end. We don’t want to see the first chapter of a story which leaves us wondering what we just read, you must tie up your story at the end.
Here is an example of one of my shortest flash fiction stories –at 116 words, written for an anthology which defined flash as under 120 words. They chose a much darker story I had written for that publication and released Chips back to me. This story was eventually published when I fleshed it out to a whopping 406 words for another publication, but here it is in its original short form;
Cass stuffed another handful of chips into her mouth, adding to the pulverised load that was already in there.
“How do you do it?” Petra asked, delicately lifting a lone chip from the bowl. “You eat constantly and never put on any weight!”
“I’m on the in-out diet” Cass said between bites.
Petra raised an eyebrow quizzically.
“Whatever you eat you have to take out first.” Cass lifted her shirt. An angry red scar peaked over her hipsters. “I suck the fat out in the morning, cook in it at lunch, and suck it out again the next day.”
Petra dropped her chip.
“Today I’m ahead!” Cass said, “that is if you keep stealing my chips!”