How short is short?
That is the question that flash fiction attempts to answer, or to a certain extent, define and/or contend with. While there is no official standard in terms of length, most would agree that a 1,000 word limit pretty much stretches the definition. Some writers take on an even greater challenge by imposing a 300-word limit.
The term “flash fiction” may have originated from the 1992 anthology, “Flash Fiction”, edited by James Thomas, Denise Thomas, and Tom Hazuka, which I am currently reading. The anthology is a collection of 72 “very short stories” on just about everything. The editors set a 750-word standard, and initially set the layout of each story to fit one page—which didn’t work, as they found out, since readers still looked for the feel of turning the pages as with every book.
I initially wanted to finish the book before I start writing about it, but I figured that would take me a while. For some, 72 very short stories is easy breezy reading. For others like me, 72 short stories can be too much, especially when there is much time taken to savor stories, ponder on their meaning, and even wonder on what has not been said.
That being said, I do have a soft spot for the short story. As someone who writes (yeah, it does seem pretentious to type “as a writer”), I never really had the patience to draw out a novel and the subplots and complexities that deal with it. Sometimes, it is easier to focus on a single scene or a particular thought, yet to fill them without dragging and to make them complete with just so little is a challenge.
What I like best about this anthology is that the form of literature draws out each writer’s unique voice. There are those who manage to fill the 750-word limit with details, while some choose to be sparse and focus on action to move forward. There are those that give a final ending on the 750th word, and there are those that make you think what happened beyond. There are those that don’t stick to a straightforward prose, and there are those that feel like a flow of one’s stream of consciousness.
It may not be a style that everyone would enjoy, but one thing is for certain: Brevity is an art. And there are those that are darn good at keeping them short and sweet.