How Short Is Short Fiction?
Readers and listeners have enjoyed short fiction since antiquity, but the Web reveals an enthusiastic surge of interest in it, along with various terms to describe it.
The traditional term for fiction shorter than a novelette (7,500—20,000 words) is “short story.” In the old days, short stories in print magazines averaged about 7,500 words. Some magazines published “short-shorts,” stories that topped out at 1,000 words and could be contained on a single page of the periodical.
Nowadays, several terms are vying for the job of describing short fiction:
short short story
The term “short-short” has not vanished, but “flash fiction” has overtaken it in popularity. Not everyone agrees, however, as to the length of “flash fiction.”
The magazine Flash Fiction Online defines its product as stories in the 500—1,000- word range.
An article at The Review Review [sic] glosses “flash fiction” as “stories under 2,000 words.” According to this count, O. Henry’s “The Magi” is just seventy words over the count to qualify as flash fiction.
David Gaffney, a British writer who has published a collection of fifty-eight 150-word stories, uses the terms “flash fiction” and “micro-fiction” interchangeably to describe his short narratives.
Australian writer Lee Masterson offers these criteria:
Micro-Fiction: up to 100 words
Flash Fiction: 100-1,000 words
Short Story: 1,000-7,500 words
I read of one writer whose flash fiction story consisted of the title only.
Whatever you call it, short fiction is enjoying a surge of popularity with writers who delight in the challenge of seeing how few words they can use to create a story. I have no statistics as to whether large numbers of readers share their enthusiasm.
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