The challenge of flash fiction is to tell a complete story in which every word is essential, to revise until you’re left with nothing but the core of a story. Flash fiction has been called by many other names including: short-short stories, sudden, postcard, minute, furious, fast, quick, skinny, and micro fiction. In France these writings are called nouvelles. In China this type of writing has appropriate names: little short story, pocket-size story, minute-long story, palm-sized story.
- Is there a definable plot? Do you have a clear beginning? A strong centerpiece? A definitive ending?
- Does your story make its point and drive it home, hard? Most flash fiction stories, due to their abrupt beginnings and sudden endings, leave the reader breathless when finished.
- Is every word absolutely essential to the story? Or have you left unnecessary sentences or some unneeded descriptives? Make the most of the space you have!
Purists insist that it is a complete story told in less than 75 words; others say 100 words should be the maximum. Many flash fiction writers consider anything under 1,000 words as flash-worthy. There are even a few who stretch their limits to 1,500 words. Today, I have attempted 369 – a set of three 69-word stories sharing a common subject. This is my favorite structure for flash fiction. As you will see, I wrote about my dad and hints of growing up Jewish.
Dad bursts into the kitchen, arms filled with packages. Jewish rye, Gulden’s Spicy Brown Mustard, corned beef, cole slaw – spill onto the countertop. Dad pulls rye from the toaster, spreads mustard, tops rye with lean slices of meat and slaw. He disappears into the basement for the hidden soda he rations out every Friday night like it’s the Great Depression. We munch silently, sit around the table…one big…happy… family….
We sit in a booth at Barson’s, ordering up forbidden cheeseburgers and milkshakes. Mom drops coins in the jukebox while we wait. Dad appears suddenly, striding down the aisle with a big smile. Just then, our waitress appears, a silver tray balanced by her left palm. As she sets the food in front of us, Dad’s smile vanishes. So do ours. Without a word, he leaves. A dark storm.
We gather over him. Sandy tells him how she will be alone. I roll my eyes. He’s wearing the prayer shawl, a Yamaka on his head. In the pocket of his suit is a letter to Mom. A photo. Dad’s wearing his uniform, waiting to see the Pope. “Why?” I once asked. He shook his head. “Have I taught you nothing? Never burn bridges.” Wise words from the grave.