Shelley Widhalm

Writing Flash Fiction vs. Short Stories

In Writing Flash Fiction, Writing Processes, Writing short Stories on January 31, 2015 at 9:00 pm

What is the difference between flash fiction and short stories beside length?

First, flash fiction is a shorter version of a short story, though the length varies depending on the magazine or journal. It can be anywhere from 100 to 1,000 words or even 1,500 words, while short stories are defined as 1,000 to 10,000 words.

Think of flash fiction as punchy and to the point, a story of extreme brevity with the plot pared down to the core of the story. Every detail, every character gesture, every description counts; each word has its place. Take one word away and the meaning is lost.

Short stories are more flexible, and unlike flash fiction, may take a couple of sittings to read. There is more space to develop ideas, plot, character and theme; there is at most, one plot and a small subplot or a plot and a half. Flash fiction shouldn’t be more than one plot and one theme.

Like flash fiction, short stories begin with a crisis or conflict right away and avoid describing the origin of the conflict or setting up long character histories. Short stories have one or a few characters and one or a few settings (limited in place and time, such as a day or a couple of weeks) and express a single theme, or message.

Flash fiction works off one idea for plot and character and, like a short story, tells a complete story with a beginning, middle and end with the elements of storytelling in place.

Writing both types of story requires writing that is clear, tight and concise.

To get that tightness, cut unnecessary descriptions, get rid of adjectives and adverbs, remove the word “that” and other empty words, and eliminate details that don’t matter. What may start as a short story can become flash fiction, or a short short, through the slashing of the unnecessary.

With both short stories and short shorts, show, don’t tell with the action. You want the reader to get in and get out and the emotional impact of what you’ve written to resonate beyond the words. Quick and short, they can have that lasting power.

(Note: My flash fiction piece, “A Wanted Man,” has been accepted for publication in the forthcoming “Baby Shoes Flash Fiction Anthology,” a Kickstarter project. Check out the Facebook page at

  1. I have a flash fiction story being posted on my blog. I have found it a great creative distraction lately. Really like 100 word stories. Nice post 🙂

  2. I’ll have to check it out! What do you like about the 100-word stories? I think they’re really challenging and also fun to do!

  3. Reblogged this on Debra Beatty.

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