“For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.”
Believe it or not, those six words are a story. According to Josh Jones, an urban legend claims that the story was allegedly written by Ernest Hemingway to settle a bar bet that he couldn’t write a six-word story. David Mikkelson said, “Papa won the bet: His short story was complete. It had a beginning, a middle, and an end.” Do six words really make a story? It does if it is flash fiction.
What is Flash Fiction?
Flash fiction used to be called “short, short stories,” (roughly 1,200-7,500 words), but the genre has evolved to fit the reading preferences of the digital age–instant gratification. Typically, flash fiction is between 75 and 1,000 words, but it comes in many sizes and names according to Wikipedia:
- six-word story
- Twitterature or TwitFic (140-character story)
- Dribble or nano fiction (50-55 words)
- Drabble (100 words)
- Sudden fiction (750 words)
- Flash fiction, nanotale or microstory (1, 000 words)
However, flash fiction is not just a story with fewer words. It has unique literary qualities. Richard Thomas compares it to the cooking term “reduction, which means to reduce a sauce, from something of a greater quantity, usually more liquid, down to a thicker, more intense flavor.” Just like reducing a sauce, flash fiction takes all of the elements of a short story and reduces them down into dense, poetry-like prose.
According to Richard Thomas, these characteristics make flash fiction unique:
- Reduction: stories use dense prose poetry where every word counts toward the story’s essence.
- Mystery: stories show the tip of the iceberg, foreshadow what’s coming and end off of the page.
- Middle: stories have no complex back story and start in the middle at the crucial, inciting moment.
- Moment: stories focus on a single moment of action that reveals the character’s life.
- Character: stories use one main character, focus on one emotion and make the reader care immediately.
- Essentials: stories are intentional and evocative, use only essential words, and move readers to the last line.
Renaissance or Reinvention?
According to Robert Shapard: “Great writers have been writing very short stories since long before the novel. Petronius wrote short-shorts in ancient Rome, and Marie de France wrote them in medieval times. But in the twentieth century, many writers, including Borges, Cortázar, Walser, Kafka, Buzzati, Calvino, Dinesen, and Kawabata, chose to return to very short works.” However, flash fiction is not a rebirth of the short-short story. It is an attempt to reinvent fiction for digital readers.
Alison Wells: “Flash fiction appeals because it gets right to the heart of human experience in just a few words . . . . Its brevity and condensed resonance make sure it lingers in the mind and heart. It has the power of a poem but with greater clarity and accessibility.”
Nuala NíChonchúir: “Lovers of flash fiction, like poets, value brevity and the hit of surprise that flash often delivers. . . . A good flash story is intense, urgent and often a little explosive, but also deep and clear, so the effect on the reader is like that of a poem–as you read it you admire its concision and, afterwards, it lingers.”
Joyce Carol Oates: “The rhythmic form of the short-short story is often more temperamentally akin to poetry than to conventional prose, which generally opens out to dramatize experience and evoke emotion; in the smallest, tightest spaces, experience can only be suggested.”
Shailaja: “The beauty of a flash fiction piece is you don’t always have to give a neatly packaged piece with all the loose ends tied up. Leave the reader wanting more. It’s a bold move, mind you. Not every reader will appreciate the concept of wondering what happened to the protagonist at the end of the piece. But it’s a worthwhile move. Flash fiction is not meant to resolve things. It’s supposed to make you think, wonder, ponder.”
The Flash in stories2music
Why does the flash fiction format work so well for stories2music (s2m)? It’s the length. Audio books require several hours of listening to experience the full story. The s2m stories run anywhere from 2:02 to 9:22 minutes, with the average being 3 to 4 minutes. The length provides instant gratification. There is a momentary flash of action, of emotion, of experience, of wondering . . . and then it’s over—leaving the listener intrigued and wanting more. The stories are bite-sized morsels of mysteries, love stories, adventures, nightmares, and drama—some set in modern times and some in Victorian and Edwardian times.
In addition, stories2music stories are blended with short orchestral film music. Their short length is perfect for the film music clips because they vary in length from 30 seconds to 5 minutes and cover a wide range of moods. The film music changes from moment to moment because it is written for TV or film scenes that change, so it fits perfectly with changes in the scenes or emotions in the stories.
In all of the stories, the film music is synchronized exactly to the actions and emotions in the stories. For example, when a kite flutters in the air in the story, the music sounds like a fluttering kite. When the Wind grows very, very angry, the music is a deep, dark, menacing, descending pitch. The captain of the ship has a majestic, nautical theme. A marriage proposal has tender, sweet and romantic music. The film music enhances the words and scenes like no other type of music.
Without the unique characteristics of flash fiction, stories2music would not exist. The momentary flash of story and flash of music create a new literary and audio experience.
Visit the stories2music website to listen to the stories.
Learn More About Flash Fiction
- Flash Fiction: What’s it All About?
- Flash Fiction: A List of Resources
- The Remarkable Reinvention of Very Short Fiction
- Top Flash Fiction Tips: David Gaffney
- Writer’s Digest: Flash Fiction FAQs
- Word for Word: The Rise and Rise of Flash Fiction