Friday, July 22, 2011

What Doesn't Pass for Flash Fiction

Flash Fiction and How to Write It - Part 3
Read Part 2 Here
Read Part 1 Here

Okay, you come up with a great idea for a flash fiction piece. You're going to add some setting details and characterization so it won't just be snippets of conversation or a brief bit of infodump. You've even got a story set-up to deliver the punch line.

You're now ready...wait, what did you just say? A story set-up to deliver the punch line? Okay, hold the bus. I think you have flash fiction mixed up with something else. You're not trying to sneak in a pun story here, are you? Ha, caught you red handed. (Because I've done it myself!)

We just admitted succumbing to a common pitfall of writing flash. The shaggy dog. The Feghoot. The elaborate story joke. Outrageous, creative, groan-worthy, sometimes even laugh out loud funny. But not flash fiction.

At least in my opinion. Some markets want exactly this, but normally flash ends with an Aha! not an Argh! While a twist ending or a surprise turn of events may be a satisfying (and logical) conclusion to a flash story, the intentional story deception (too strong a word?) for a cheap laugh simply disappoints and frustrates the reader.

Now I don't mind pun stories, in fact, I love wordplay and can pass that internet pun test with both feet tied behind my back (quite a feat!). But I want to know from the beginning what I'm getting into. If you enjoy these type of humorous set-ups, then here are a couple I think you'll like. Okay, those are examples of what flash is not.

So what does pass for flash fiction? Can flash be funny? Sure! But the story shouldn't be a string of red herrings and the ending can't be a non sequitur to the plot. As mentioned, the flash ending should be a natural denouement to the climax - or simply end at the climax or reveal itself (think The Tell-Tale Heart). It can be a bit jokey, but the point is that flash is not an extended joke.

This may be a fine line, but in a closing example, here's my story, "Spam Fiction" published by Every Day Fiction which I think (obviously, I'm biased) presents a bit of humor but within the structure of a real story. A few more of my flash pieces are available in a short collection at Smashwords. Enjoy.

And all the best as you have fun with this popular form of story telling.

[Note: This series continues with a Guest Column by Camille Campbell, managing editor of Every Day Fiction. You can read her blog at Copy. Edit. Proof.]


  1. It's interesting how flash fiction, in the widest possible sense, is developing it's own spinoffs almost. I've seen this happen in music and it's a sign generally of a creative and inventive period in a genre. I had not even heard the term spam fiction. I'm gonna have to have a look at some of these examples.

  2. Good point, Charles. This is a creative time in fiction - forms are being transformed, genres are blending, smash-ups are popular, the novel is...novel again!

    As for my "Spam Fiction" well, that was just the title of my story, but it's based on those stupid spam emails we all get. Here's one that The Passive Guy at his blog received:

    "The crux of your writing whilst sounding reasonable initially, did not really sit properly with me after some time. Someplace within the paragraphs you actually were able to make me a believer unfortunately only for a while. I however have got a problem with your leaps in logic and you might do well to fill in those breaks. When you actually can accomplish that, I would definitely end up being impressed."

    Haha. Love it. I guess this is a new form of entertainment! ;)


Keep it clean and positive. (And sorry about the word verification, but the spmb*ts are out in full force!)