Literary Terms: Flash Fiction
These days, it seems like flash fiction has never been more popular. With many journals including separate submission categories for flash and still others, such as wigleaf and SmokeLong Quarterly, devoted entirely to the publication of small fictions—the short short story is (finally) getting its due. Many authors, such as Lydia Davis, Amelia Gray, Ben Loory, and Amber Sparks, have put out collections of flash fiction without explicitly labeling it as such. Flash fiction is generally considered to be a story of 1000 words or less (though there is even some debate about this), but within this category alone there are several subsets. The wonderful thing about flash fiction is that, aside from its length, it resists easy definition. There are limitless techniques that can be used in flash. So why label it at all? Well, you certainly don’t have to. But it can be fun. For example: did you know that there is something called a drabble? Sometimes putting a constraint of 1000 or 300 or even 25 words on a story is all you need to get the creative juices flowing.
Hint Fiction – Credit goes to Robert Swartwood for coining the term hint fiction as: “A story of 25 words or fewer that suggests a larger, more complex, story.” We were thrilled to get a chance to talk with Swartwood himself in this interview. Swartwood also edited the first-ever hint fiction anthology, and he explained to us what he believes makes a great piece of hint: “For me, a successful hint fiction story stands by itself. It’s not a first sentence or random sentence plucked out of a much larger work. In many ways, it has a beginning, middle, and end.” Here is a roundup of a few of our favorite hint fiction stories to read online.
Twitter Fiction – As the name suggests, twitter fiction refers to stories made up of 140 characters max that appear on the social media site, though it should be noted that these stories can often take the form of several tweets strung together. Swartwood rightly pointed out to us that the main difference between hint fiction and twitter fiction (besides the slight variance in length requirements) is that hint fiction has a title and twitter fiction doesn’t. In stories of this length, a title can make a big difference. You know that it is coming into the mainstream when Jennifer Egan publishes an entire story in The New Yorker composed, originally, as a series of tweets. You can read great articles on twitter fiction in The Atlantic and The Huffington Post.
Dribble and drabble – While these terms are not widely used, a drabble is generally acknowledged to be a story of precisely 100 words, a dribble a story of precisely 50. You will not find these definitions listed in Merriam-Webster, but still: they are pretty great.