How do you define flash fiction?

There are many definitions for flash fiction. I looked it up and the first thing I found said:

a style of literature in which stories are extremely short and often consist of less than 300 words

Three hundred words! I see that as more micro fiction but I’m pretty wordy so I could be wrong. Several sites that publish flash fiction take submissions that are 500-1000 words. I am working on a course that says 500 words. I guess I think anything under 1000 works.

Using a fantasy prompt I wrote a piece last night that was intended to be flash fiction, in this case, under 500. In the end, before any editing, it was 1075. I also wrote a few questions for myself that I suspect, when answered, will up the word count considerably. Now I’m not sure what I should do with it. I could answer my questions and write whatever else comes to me and let it be a short story. I could cut away at it and force it down to five hundred. For all I know there could be thousands of words in my head waiting to spill out for it. Since I’m trying to work on getting good at flash fiction the logical side of me says to pare it down. The other side says not to restrict myself. I may have to put that story aside for now to let it finish cooking in my brain!

For those of you who write flash fiction, I have two questions

  1. What would you do in a case like this?
  2. What is your take on the definition of flash fiction?

I’m sure a lot of you would not have used a fantasy prompt but I’m trying to challenge myself. Also since I normally write fantasy, I have a hard time coming up with ideas for non-fantasy fiction, short or long. If you are curious, the prompt I used was:

Your character finds dragon bones in a cave. What happens when he/she picks them up?

Any suggestions are welcome!


  1. My definition – under 1k, preferably under 500 words.

    What would I do? Depends – if you can expand it to a quality short story, then adding is the way to go. However if it is not necesary, and would simple bloat your piece (regardless of how cool this stuff may be), then i would drop it & start cutting. I always overwrite – most times I cut. That said, Im curreny in a very similar position & Im adding stuff. I think its possibly strong enoughbto carry the extra words 🙂


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  2. Since this is a lesson in flash fiction, I would cut away any unnecessary parts and make it work, ensuring you have all pertinent information relating to the storyline. It’s challenging, but I’m sure you can do it. Then, for your own benefit, turn that flash fiction story into a banging fantasy short story. No reason you can’t do both. Thanks for the follow, by the way.

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  3. Hm, I think I would try and pare it down first, and see what comes out. then, if you still feel it has potential to be expanded into a short story, you can still do that. I’ve found that learning to trim stories down to their intended word-length has helped me to focus on what’s really necessary for the story.

    Of course, when it comes to fantasy, which is my genre as well, the words to tend to rack up. I wrote a story a while ago that I forced down to flash length, and I think, in hindsight it really needs more adding to it to make it into a better story. But on the other hand, some really work well pared down.

    I’m not sure what the definition of flash fiction is either. I’ve always worked to the somewhere-around-500 words mark.

    Good luck. 🙂

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  4. Ah, the age-old dilemma of how long, how many words, what am I really writing? I was restricted to very short journalistic writing (500 words or less!) early in my career. Now I enjoy the freedom of fiction and novels (my first was 155,000 words!), but have found the media of novellas has a little more meat to it than a short story. I estimate that someone travelling to and from work can finish the novella while they ride a bus, a train, a plane, or in a carpool. Flash fiction is so short, it is restrictive, but it forces you to get the premise out, catch the reader’s attention in the first sentence, throw in an unanticipated twist, and write a short memorable conclusion. The most important thing to consider is whether you’re doing yourself justice as a writer or just counting words to match a format. A thought for you to ponder…which sounds like exactly what you’re doing. Yes, let it get cold, then look at it again. Do you still like it? Would you read it if someone else wrote it? And the two biggest questions, who is your audience and what do you really want to say? Follow your heart…

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    1. Keeping it under 500 words is very hard for me. I want to try and get good at it but I suspect in the end I’ll stick with longer short stories and novel length. I haven’t tried novella length. Maybe that will be my next challenge for myself.


  5. I like Kelly Unbuttoned’s suggestion to do both. Keep a copy of this first draft. You could write to answer those questions come up, and if your story grows to 10,000 words, so be it. Then you could go back to the copy of the first draft and pare it down to fewer than 1,000 words. It would be an interesting exercise to compare the two stories and see which you think is the stronger one.

    For me, flash is definitely fewer than 1,000 words — and I typically go for fewer than 500 words. Of course, sometimes I get carried away in writing and not carried away enough in editing 🙂

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  6. There ought to be a time limit on the time it takes to write the piece too—the challenge of writing 700 words in 7 hours tops.  To prepare, get your head in gear and make it all run fast, flash both ways.  At least that’s something of what I did.

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  7. To be honest, I’ve been struggling to find out what exactly flash fiction is myself, so I can’t really help you there. Although, it seems safe to go by the guidelines of people who are actually looking to publish said flash fiction.

    As far as what to do with your current project, I would say pare it down for now. There’s no reason you can’t come back to it later. I can think of plenty of examples where a writer has turn an old short story into a whole novel. ^-^

    Something that might help you to keep your fantasy shorter is to hunt down some short story anthologies. I highly recommend Sword and Sorceress, especially the earlier volumes… because those are the ones I’ve found and read so far. I have mostly been seeking them out in used bookstores, but I know you can get almost all of them on Amazon as well. Lots of great stories that vary in length. I was actually surprised that quite a few were really short! In fact one of my favorites was barely more than a single page.

    Good luck!

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