Flash Fiction vs. Short Stories: What’s the difference?

The term “short fiction” includes many different types of writing. The most popular among these types are short stories and flash fiction. A short story can range anywhere from about 500 words to 10,000 words, depending on the source of the information. Many publishing companies, especially the ones specializing in anthologies, look for works that range from 1,000 words to 5,000 words. Flash fiction usually ranges from 100 words to 1,000 words.

So, what is the difference between short stories and flash fiction? There are many differences, though they are often difficult to discern. The main difference between the two is the concept of structure.

Short stories should have a basic structure including introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution. Many believe that a short story is just a flash into the lives of the characters, when in reality, a short story contains the same essential elements as a novel. The difference between a novel and a short story is the depth at which the characters and plot line are explored. In a basic form, a short story needs a beginning, middle, and end, with a healthy dose of character development. 0t should tell a complete story, whether the topic is how a relationship between two people begins, the testing process of a wizard, a car accident, or perhaps even a character’s struggle to find a job. The possibilities are endless. What needs to remain constant is that there is an introduction, character development, a conflict, and a resolution for that conflict. It does not have to be a positive resolution, or a happily-ever-after, but it does need to be a conclusion which the reader finds satisfactory.

Flash fiction, on the other hand, is a “flash” into a situation. It should include one character, conflict, and resolution. The difference here is that the plot can be quite simple. For example, an evening in the life of a character in which realization is achieved. There does not have to be an external conflict in flash fiction, and the resolution can be as simple as the character making a decision they were previously having trouble resolving. There are many forms of flash fiction. Some of the most popular are stories with a word count restriction. There are those that specialize in using exactly 55 words to tell a story, all the way down to 3. These kinds of flash fiction concentrate more on hinting at the plot line, and may not even contain a solid character.

In the end, the main identifiable difference between a short story and flash fiction is the depth of which the character(s) development, plot line, and resolution strive towards. Both forms have great merit, and there are many published authors who have made a name for themselves strictly by writing flash fiction and short stories.

Joy Campbell specializes in article writing, research, short fiction, and creating helpful information for new and emerging writers.

Editing As You Write: The Pros And Cons

Editing as you write your flash fiction, short story, or novel.Do you find yourself editing as you write? Do you prefer to keep the writing and editing processes separate? All writers have an opinion about how and when to edit your work-in-progress. Some storytellers let their writing flow uninterrupted, leaving a trail of spelling errors and typos in their wake. Other writers prefer careful editing of their piece after each writing session (or page, or paragraph, or sentence), examining each scene or chapter carefully and fine tuning it into a work of written art.

I use a mix of both techniques. I can’t stand looking at the red squiggly lines appearing below my errors, so I quickly backspace and fix my glaring errors while writing a scene. I even enter my characters’ names into my dictionary, so I don’t have a messy document. However, larger changes, such as carving up a scene, I save until much later on. That much reworking would knock my writer’s hat off my head, leaving only my editor’s hat.

Pros of Consistently Editing

  1. You’ll finish with a more polished manuscript, which will require less editing after it is completed.
  2. You can keep track of how your plot, subplot, and story arc are progressing, and rely less on your memory.
  3. If you find a major plot hole that requires a complete restructuring of your story, you can fix it immediately and not find yourself at a dead end later.
  4. Your characters will be less likely to wander off on tangents that are unrelated to the story at hand.
  5. The story will have much more continuity, and you won’t have to search to change every instance of an incorrect fact.
  6. Grammatical errors are much easier to spot when reading smaller chunks of a story.

Cons of Constantly Editing

  1. The flow of the story will be harder to maintain when you are stopping and starting repeatedly.
  2. The critical side of you required to edit properly can bring your mood down, draining your motivation.
  3. You may pick apart a scene to pieces, so that it falls apart and is no longer usable in your story.
  4. You may forget your place in the story, and stop writing much sooner than you intended.
  5. Your daily word count may be lower, and your progress will be harder to track.
  6. If you find a problem that requires major work, you may not know how to fix it, which will halt you in your tracks.

So what’s the verdict? Each writer has their own writing and editing style. What works for me won’t necessarily work for you. As long as it is actually working, then keep it up! If not, go over the pros and cons, and decide for yourself.

Weigh in on the editing debate! Which method do you find yourself doing most often? Do you have more pros or cons to add to the list? Share your editing experiences here.

Photo Credit: Nic McPhee

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing Tips. Part 4 of our chat with Hugo and Nebula Award-nominee Rachel Swirsky

In part 3 of our 4-part interview with Rachel Swirsky, she discussed Secrets of Dialogue, Character, and Plot. But genre fiction — science fiction and fantasy, in particular — have their own rules for both writing and marketing your work. With more than 10 years experience as a widely-published science fiction and fantasy writer, Hugo and Nebula Award-nominee Rachel Swirsky shares her best genre-specific tips.

Dawn: Your latest novelette, “Eros, Philia, Agape,” plays with conventions established by Isaac Asimov’s Robot series. I don’t want to ask you that tired old question of “where do you get your ideas” but I am curious: Where did you get the idea for that specific story?

Rachel: The story has been compared to Asimov’s work a number of times, but I didn’t have his work in mind when I was writing. The major inspirations were two-fold.

I had recently participated in a flash fiction contest with open judging wherein there were a number of robot stories, which my friend Ann Leckie and I started calling coin-operated boy stories.

One in particular involved a woman who had ordered a robot as a sex toy, but she didn’t enjoy sex with it. She would have sex with it–which is, essentially, masturbation–but it read to me as this totally passive event, like she was having sex with the robot for the robot’s pleasure. I thought it was a bizarre construction of female sexuality. There’s this idea that women only have sex because men enjoy it–and that’s odd enough. But why would you masturbate with a robot if you didn’t get some pleasure out of it? Since the robot in the story wasn’t sentient, that’s like having sex for the dildo’s enjoyment. So that was the most shallow inspiration–my character was going to want her robot as a lover, not passively accept it for the robot’s benefit.

After I committed to writing a coin-operated boy story, I started thinking about something Octavia Butler said about how the American consciousness is shaped by slavery. She said it has distorted our ability to love. I chewed on that for a long time. In “Eros, Philia, Agape“, Lucian is, essentially, Adriana’s slave. He’s a coddled slave, and I think Adriana has made a sincere effort to give them freedom and make them equals. But she can’t really–Lucian’s origins are still in slavery.

I believe that people who love each other often wreak terrible things on each other through best intentions–and this is a story that involves that, too. They all love each other, but love is not a panacea.
I imagine the story as an essential moral ambiguity. There are no right choices for anyone to make; no ways for everyone to be healed; everything that happens involves pain. At least, that’s my interpretation. Others have read the story differently.

Dawn: It sounds like you follow the adage that a writer reads, constantly!

Rachel: This is good advice for other kinds of writers, too, but there are some reasons it’s a good idea for science fiction and fantasy writers that are specific to the genre. The kinds of technology and world-building that appear in science fiction and fantasy stories tend to build on each other in ways that you have to know if you’re going to write relevant material.

Technology that’s introduced in one set of stories–for instance, in stories by William Gibson–becomes foundational for subgenres, as Gibson’s did for cyberpunk. You don’t want to reinvent the science fictional wheel. Also, idea is primary to many science fiction and fantasy stories in a way that it’s primary to very few literary short stories. There’s a push toward innovation, to describing a kind of new technology idea that no one has ever seen before, or rendering an entirely new treatment of an old concept. You can’t innovate if you don’t know what the old material looks like.

Dawn: Yes, exposition is another challenge more prevalent in science fiction and fantasy, right?

Rachel: You have to build a world as part of your exposition. It’s a knotty problem. That’s why workshops aimed at mainstream writers sometimes fail for science fiction and fantasy writers. Most mainstream writers have never thought about how to solve exposition issues. They may also get distracted by things like not understanding what, say, a generation ship is, or that salamanders are associated with fire–things your audience would already know.

That doesn’t mean mainstream-oriented workshops can’t be useful to science fiction and fantasy authors — they have been massively useful for me — but it’s good to be aware of their limitations. Reading people who handle their exposition well (Orson Scott Card names Octavia Butler as a master at it, and I agree) seems to be the most useful tool.

Dawn: How can science fiction and fantasy writers market their work?

Rachel: There are a couple of websites– ralan.com and duotrope.com come to mind–that keep track of salient details of short story markets. Of course, they’re not going to do all the work for you. You have to figure out where to send.

It may be tempting to start with small markets where you feel like you have a higher chance, but don’t do it — a top-down marketing strategy is best. Aim high. Then, if the best market doesn’t take your stuff, try the second-best market.

You might start with Clarkesworld, Fantasy Magazine, Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, Realms of Fantasy, Asimov’s Science Fiction and Fact, Analog, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Weird Tales, Interzone, Chiarascuro, and some of the other big hitters, and then make your way into the semi-pros, the well-respected token paying markets, and so on.

It’s relatively easy to figure out who the pro markets are because the Science Fiction Writers of America keeps a list of magazines that meet their qualifying criteria. Read widely, and then submit to the magazines that publish stories you like.

I do not recommend submitting to magazines whose stories you don’t like because you figure you can do better than that and they must be desperate for quality. Either they will reject you because they don’t like the kind of thing you do and you’ll feel bad, or you’ll be embarrassed by the credit later because it will associate you with fiction you think is inferior.

You can read stories and poetry by Rachel Swirsky at:

Subterranean Magazine
Fantasy Magazine
Weird Tales
Beneath Ceaseless Skies

Find out more at RachelSwirsky.com

Dawn: What about networking in the science fiction and fantasy community?

Rachel: Find places where science fiction and fantasy writers hang out, on Absolute Write, or Livejournal, or the Codex Writers Group if you qualify to join it–or wherever else–and keep your ear to the ground. Short story writers talk about magazines constantly, so you’ll learn the buzz. Those are the best methods, but if you’re still looking for stuff, I also recently wrote a brief article at Ecstatic Days about some of the ways I decide where to submit my work that lists a number of smaller magazines I like.