Friday, December 14, 2012

Guest Proser Suzanne Vincent on Flash Fiction

I'm excited to introduce my guest proser this week. Her name is Suzanne Vincent, and she is the editor-in-chief of FFO, which you'll learn all sorts of cool things about momentarily. That's all she wanted me to say about her originally, but I sweet talked her into divulging a few more fun facts:
  • I recently took the leap from crochet to knitting.  Knitting is WAY harder.
  • I have three children and a fabulous hubby.  
  • I homeschool--two high school graduates getting on with their lives and one still plugging away.
  • At one time we had pets  in each of the five classes of vertebrates (all at once, mind you)--snakes,
     rogs, birds, fish, and various mammals.  Thankfully we're down to just birds and mammals now.
  • We have more instruments than people in the house--4 times as many, actually.  I play in a little traditional Celtic music band with my two oldest kids and a few friends.  I play Bodhran, Mandolin, and vocals.
Thank you, Suzanne, for being my guest blogger this week! ~Melanie
I found this cute picture while searching
for a picture of knitting.  Plus, alpacas are
mammals. This photo is relevant in SO many ways.
Considering what I do, I thought it most appropriate to make an attempt at waxing philosophic about flash fiction.

Ten years ago who had heard of this thing called flash fiction?  No one.  Certainly not Robert Jordan of The Wheel of Time fame. But it’s been around as long as people have been writing things down.  Think ‘Aesop.’  Think ‘fables.’  Think ‘fairy tales’ and ‘legends.’

And from those beginnings we have a new and exciting prose form that many dabble in but few understand.  Why is that?  For starters, no one has established any hard and fast do’s and don’t’s for the form.  You can’t go to a book or website and have a neatly bulleted list of flash rules.

A flash...
Haiku?  Easy.  5-7-5.  (No, I don’t want to hear any poetry buffs rebuff that statement, because, yes, I know that Haiku has many different forms, 5-7-5 simply being the most commonly taught in public schools.)

Flash?  Not so easy.

Definitions of the form vary widely.  Stories with fewer than 1500 words, 1000 words, 500, 300, 100.  Stories of exactly so-and-so many words.  It might be called instant fiction, sudden fiction, immediate fiction, 5-minute fiction, short-short fiction, micro-fiction, all of which are correct, or not.


You should be.

But it’s not as bad as it once was.  After 4 years editing flash fiction, I’ve noticed a gradual settling of exactly what the form is, and I suspect Flash Fiction Online has had a role in that. 

For Flash Fiction Online’s purposes, flash fiction is a complete story of at least 500 words, but no more than 1000.  Why?  It’s all about money really.  Isn’t everything?  We pay $50 per story.  In order to qualify as a Science Fiction Writers of America pro-pay market, we have to pay a minimum of 5 cents per word, meaning a maximum of 1000 words.  But we also don’t want to overpay.  So we have this little narrow window that pays as little as 5c per word, but as much as 10c per word, depending on the length of the story.

In general, however, the form is most frequently defined as stories of 1000 words or fewer, with several popular sub-forms.  Microfiction, for example, is most frequently used for stories of 100 words or fewer, or stories of exactly 50 words.  Even exactly 69 words.  (Don’t ask me where that sub-form came from.  I don’t know, and I suspect it’s better that way.)

And the structure of flash fiction?  That depends on who you talk to as well.

But, for most, flash fiction is a complete story in short-short form, differentiating it from the vignette, which is something like a story in that there are usually/but not always characters/narrators doing/talking about something, but generally without plot development.  Naval-gazing we fondly call it. 

In terms of genre, flash fiction has no limits.  I’ve seen it all. Well, almost.  I have yet to read a flash Western.  The rest?  Done it.  Even, much to my chagrin, erotica and gore, and WAY too many romantic vampire stories, usually within weeks of the release of each Twilight book/movie.  One more reason to detest Stephanie Meyer.

So why is flash fiction relevant?  Good question! 

First, flash is growing in popularity due to an ever more frantic world.  I have one young friend—a student, writer, and avid reader—who rarely reads novels anymore.  She doesn’t have the time to allow herself that kind of immersion.  But she can read a flash story in five minutes while waiting for her bus.  Others read it because they simply lack the attention span for longer stories.  Flash readers are young and busy and the literature of the 21st century will inevitably evolve—is evolving—to reflect that.

Second, flash is rightfully touted as a writing lesson in 1000 words.  Longtime flash fiction fan, supporter, and founder of Liberty Hall Writers flash fiction challenge, Mike Munsil, began the challenge for two reasons: first, to motivate writers to craft a submission-ready story in a short period of time; second, to give writers a venue to learn better writing technique from this unique form.

Flash fiction, above all else, teaches economy in writing.  It teaches the writer to use every single word wisely.  That’s a lesson that’s useful not just to short story writers, but to novelists as well.  Managing the length of a story has more to do with manipulating the number and complexity of characters, settings, conflicts, etc., rather than filling space with words.  Being aware of every word used to write a story, no matter the length, is, in my humble opinion, the highest form of literary skill.  In flash there is no time for lengthy descriptions, just effective ones.

Third, as mentioned above, flash gives writers the opportunity to have stories out there in the market with a minimum of work.  We always want our stories circulating the slushpiles—and the more the better.  A stable full of stories wandering from one venue to another, seeking a home, adding publishing credits to our resumes, establishing name recognition and respect and a network of fellow writers.  A flash story can be written—from idea to finished, edited story—in a few hours.  Mike Munsil’s flash challenge gives members 90 minutes to get the story on the page.  Editing comes later.  Through Mike’s site, thousands of stories have been written, hundreds published, many more developed into longer stories.

The real trick to writing flash fiction, though, is not being fooled into believing that writing a shorter story is easier than writing a longer one.  Mark Twain once said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”  There is much wisdom in that. 

What does that say about Robert Jordan? 

What does it say about me? 

Maybe I should take a writing vacation and restart that epic fantasy trilogy…

And, by the way, this blog post?  1000 words.  Exactly.


I just can’t get away from it.

P.S. This is Melanie again. Liberty Hall is a members only writing group. If you are interested in joining, you can find membership request information here.


  1. Thanks for being a guest Proser Suzanne. Great post!! Very informative.

    I've never written a flash fiction, but you make a good case here for giving it a try. I didn't realize that flash fiction was gaining in popularity, but it makes sense considering the fast paced world we live in. Also I love that quote by Mark Twain, so true.

    Once again thanks for a truly excellent post.

  2. Thank you so much for this. I've always been wary of flash fiction because it was such a foreign form of storytelling to me. I think it might be fun (in a nerve wracking sort of way) to try, and now I understand enough about it that I want to give it a shot. I think I'll spend some time reading flash stories first to get a sense of what they look like when done well.

    Excellent post! Thanks again.

  3. Fearless leader, here on Prosers we call it navel grazing. Nom nom. :)

    I love flash fiction, because you can try things that would never work as a novel. There is so much room for experimental creativity.


  4. This was great! I love reading flash fiction, but, as you said, find it very difficult to write. Thanks for the interesting insights.


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