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In Defense of Flash Fiction – What It Can Teach You about Writing

Saturday, December 17, 2011
For me it all started with an entry into last year’s “Three-Minute Fiction” Contest on National Public Radio (NPR). Essentially, thousands of writers around the country (and a few of us outside of the United States) submit a work of fiction, a short story that must be exactly 600 words – no more and no less. For many writers (me included) this can be a very intimidating challenge.
However, I would contend that entering that contest was the best thing that I could have ever done to jumpstart my career in writing fiction. In fact, not only did I rediscover a love for both reading and writing short stories but I also gained an even greater admiration for those authors who specifically select short story writing as their medium for self expression. But, when it came to writing flash fiction, I had some reservations. Since 2000 I had been writing short online articles designed to help small-business owners handle their own PR in house. Therefore, I felt completely confident keeping my stories around 600 words, which is the optimum length that experts speculate readers feel most comfortable skimming from their computer screen or mobile devices.
Writing a short information piece is one thing but trying to tell a fictional story in the same number of words is a different story entirely. There was one other remaining doubt: how to get around the fact that a lot of readers simply prefer longer novels to short works of fiction. Some readers reject all short fiction because it is just that – too short unfortunately. By the time they are drawn into the story and make a commitment, suddenly, it is over. The only way I can get around these obstacles is to explain, from an author’s point of view, why I enjoy writing short stories – particularly flash fiction:
  • It provides opportunity to create thoughtful, introspective stories. As an author, if you can capture the reader’s attention and help them escape to a new world -- even for a short time – and change them in the process, you’ve done your job.
  • It sharpens the writing. Telling a complete story utilizing few words means that each word used must be carefully selected because of the feelings that it conveys (in order words, every word must tell). Isn’t that what high school English teachers preach to students anyway?
  • Stylistically, it allows an author to say their peace, get off the page and move on to another story. It’s the perfect way to train and keep writing until inspiration for a longer work hits.

So what does the reader get out of this experience in return? Short stories that are:
  • Extremely brief and easily digestible in one sitting.
  • Quickly downloadable from eBook readers or smart phones (a perfect format for people constantly on-the-go.)
  • Emotionally driven and invite readers to take a peek inside of the lives of others. For a brief moment in time, the reader becomes the interloper within a conversation between characters.
  • Also Affordable – period.

So the next time you run across a flash fiction work by an author, seriously consider giving the story a chance. Who knows? It just might turn out to be the best little piece of fiction you’ve ever read in your life. Or, it could be just a pleasant introduction to a previously unknown author.
And by the way, according to my word count, this article (including title and byline) is exactly 600 words – no more and no less!


  1. I love this piece! I had written two unpublished novels before being told to move into short stories. I totally agree that when you're limited on the number of words it makes you a better writer.