Distinguishing between "Flash" and "Sudden" Fiction
Thomas, James, and Robert Shapard, eds. Flash Fiction Forward: 80 Very Short Stories. New York: Norton, 2006.
"They [are] very short stories. Granted, some of the stories seemed largely implied. Whatever they did -- whether they evoked a mood a provoked the intellect, introduced us to people we were interested to meet or described for us some unusual but understandable phenomena -- most depended for their success not on their length but on their depth, clarity of vision, and human significance" (11-12, emphasis added).
"First we looked to length. Our minimum from a decade ago still seemed good. Not wanting to be too restrictive, we based this on a question: How short can a story be and still truly be a story? Some would say ideally a short as a sentence, but we found in practice that anything less than a third of a page is likely to be a mere summary, or perhaps a joke" (12).
"For maximum length, we kept to our original 750 words (the same as Hemingway's classic 'A Very Short Story'), which had a practical basis, too -- to finish a flash fiction, you shouldn't have to turn the page more than once" (12).
From Richard Bausch: "When a story is compressed so much, the matter of it tends to require more size: that is, in order to make it work in so small a space its true subject must be proportionately larger" (12).
"This [comment] has two important implications, first that the subject of a flash should not be small, or trivial, any more than it should be for a poem, and second that the essence of a story (including its 'true subject') exists not just in the amount of ink on the page -- the length -- but in the writer's mind, and subsequently the reader's" (12-13).
From Grace Paley: "A short story is closer to the poem than to the novel (I've said that a million times) and when it's very very short -- 1, 2, 2-1/2 pages - should be read like a poem. That is slowly. People who like to skip can't skip in a 3-page story" (13).
"A flash fiction should be memorable. Of course, there were other criteria -- a good flash should move the reader emotionally or intellectually, it should be well written -- and, not least, everyone had his or her own idea of what was uplifting, disgusting, hilarious, artful" (13-14).
Shapard, Robert, and James Thomas, eds. New Sudden Fiction: Short-Short Stories from America and Beyond. New York: Norton, 2007.
"If you are only now discovering sudden fiction and are wondering what it is, the answer is easy: very short stories, only a few pages long" (13).
"These new works didn't end with a twist or a bang, but were suddenly just there, surprising, unpredictable, hilarious, serious, moving, in only a few pages" (14).
"We decided to search for a distinction within the genre. Stories of only a page or two seemed to us different not only in length but in nature; they evoked a single moment, or an idea, whereas a five-page story, however experimental, was more akin to the traditional short story. Calling on the wisdom of Solomon, we split the child (sudden fiction) into two new children. The longer story became 'new' sudden fiction, while the short became flash, named by James Thomas, editor of a volume called Flash Fiction" (15).
"New" sudden fiction averages 1,500 words.
"Most surprising, though, it was the suddens, not the flashes, that got the most 10s from our readers. We should have expected this. We knew flashes were hard to write well, with their narrower range" (17).
Updated: 24 July 2007