I thought, as this is a flash-fiction blog, I had better define what I mean by 'flash-fiction'.

If you look around for a consistent definition of the term, it's hard to find one. I shall unpick them, and explain how what I am doing fits in with them.

One thing that every definition agrees on is that flash-fiction should be very short stories. However, the actual length of them varies. Some places define it as 150 words or under, some 500 or under, some 1000 or under.

What I write are very short stories, it's true, but I don't think it has anything to do with the exact length, and some of mine exceed even that outer limit of 1000 words. After all, it would be possible to carefully craft 150 words over a course of a month, but there would be nothing to suggest the word 'flash' in that.

So, what other definitions do we need to play with? Well, some people think a flash-fiction should be written within a time limit - 10 minutes say. This is a useful idea, especially for those just starting in the medium, as it forces concision, but when you are writing many different flash-fictions, it ceases to be as useful. Certainly, I would say that a flash-fiction should be written in a single burst, one period of constant writing in which the story is both started and finished.

Another idea associated with flash-fiction is that there should be no ideas in the writer's mind before he or she sits down. That the whole thing should emerge from a prompt unseen before the first moment of writing. That the prompt should be allowed into the brain and the story should flow without planning or preparation. This is probably the closest thing to a true definition of flash that I can find. It is the following of a prompted thought to its narrative conclusion which sums up the flash.

But, of course, you would expect me to suggest that there is much more to the process of flash-fiction writing. So, I shall tell you how I write my flash-fictions, how the stories in 31 were written, and we'll see if a definition emerges.

Sometimes I work from prompts - images, titles, lyrics or lines of dialogue from books, films and songs, a random overhearing, a word or phrase suggested to me, etc. - but sometimes an idea will simply come to me in the that magical and unknowable way they sometimes have.

Whichever route leads to the story's inception, I follow the same procedure. I gather the phrase, the images, the word, or the idea and I put it aside until I have the chance to write it. I do my level best not to think about what the story might be that would emerge from the prompt or idea until I actually start writing, and then I let it out. That's not always possible, but I try not to plan too much of the story in my head, before time, but let the writing muscles in the brain work on them during the actual writing process.

I don't set a time-limit or a word count for myself. I let the story spin out for as long as it needs to, and become as long as it needs to be. This led to stories of between 85 and 1093 words in 31. The majority did, indeed fall into the 300-500 word range, but that was by design of story, rather than any emphasis on length.

The design for story is the key. A flash-fiction should be a snapshot of a larger story. A part which can represent the whole. It attempts to include all the same things as a longer story - characters, plot, description, theme, etc. - but to do as much of it by implication rather than statement. It is a distillation of story which allows a narrative to take a single idea from point A to point B, and imply all the letters beyond.* I believe that it is, in many ways, the ultimate expression of the short-story, requiring exactly the right words in exactly the right order, to create a whole world in the minimum length.

And that's it, that's my thoughts of flash-fiction. The stories you see on flash365 may come from prompts or unprompted ideas and will vary in length and purpose, but each will have been written in a single burst and attempt to engage all of your story-reading skills with the greatest economy of words. Simple, eh?

*This differs from the flash-fiction's close relative, the prose poem, which tends to just stay with A and have a good long look at it. This, however, is not a hard and fast rule, and the lines between the two forms tend to blur.

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