Flash fiction: short stories with a long lifespan

Nested Russian dolls

Here’s a tongue-twister of a question: just how short should a short story be?

When it comes to word count, the literary short story has always resisted absolute rules. Outside the specifications of individual publishers, there’s no real definitive guide to how long a ‘short’ story should be.

Instead, it could be more useful to think of a short story as a standalone work that can, as Edgar Allen Poe said, be “read at one sitting” – or as a tale that has been whittled down to its essentials in a way that makes it “almost impossible… to summarize”. Or, perhaps, to consider the defining element of a short story as not so much its length, but its effect. It could be argued that the best short stories resonate in the mind for long after the last word has been read, triggering a “complexity of afterthought” in the reader.

In short order

Given the nebulous nature of the short story form, it’s not surprising that several sub-genres have sprung up in recent decades with word counts that are more sharply defined. Since Anton Chekhov is widely considered the original “supreme artist of the short story”, it’s nice to picture these sub-genres as a series of Russian dolls, each one fitting neatly inside the other.

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More competition news!

Jam Jar Lights Phnom Penh

I’m very happy to say I came 6th in a flash fiction contest – this time, we were asked to write a microfiction story of 250 words. I’ll post the story here once certain rights issues have been sorted.

Nanofiction: The Ring / L’alliance

Man with wedding ring

[Here’s a piece of nanofiction – a story in 25 words – in mirrored languages.]

The Ring

“I love you…” he said, bare-fingered.

“I love you too,” I told him, bare-souled.

“…but not enough,” he said, and put the ring back on.

L’alliance

«Je t’aime…, me dit-il, le doigt nu.

– Je t’aime aussi, lui répondis-je, l’âme à nu.

– …Mais pas suffisamment », déclara-t-il, et il remit son alliance.

© Joanna Rubery 2017

Microfiction: I dropped the dictionary

Ring on dictionary

“You’re amazing,” he says, and I laugh, and kiss him back.

“This isn’t love,” he adds.

It isn’t?

“What is it, then?” I ask.

He shrugs.

So I reach out for the dictionary, but drop it – and all the words spill out, scattering like soundless marbles. I pluck one spinning by: naive. It blinks at me. I snatch another: foolish. He unfurls a sleek deceitful, and grabs another: lying. And another, wildly: cheat.

“It isn’t true!” he says, wide-eyed, and then one floats between us like a feather.

Eybdoog is not a word,” he says.

“Goodbye,” I say.

© Joanna Rubery 2017

Microfiction: Valparaíso

Valparaíso

Lilac jacaranda under blue and gold: in this pacific paradise, you’re kicking stones and humming as the city drops away below. A Cuban trumpeter trails flat orange notes. You spin me round by fountains splashing carmine Carmenere. I’m ecstatically serene. It’s raining rainbows.

“Look at them!” you say: two children kissing on a plant pot. “They’re finding their own way in love.”

Like we will, in the southern sun.

“Like I will,” you say, to yourself, “One day.”

I struggle after you in the high heat. Did I hear right?

“But not yet,” you say, to the stones, “Not yet.”

© Joanna Rubery 2017

Microfiction: Speed Dating

Heart on beach

ooh, cute guy at the bar!- but we’re off

#1 – well. I guess it’s not a deal-breaker …

#2 – mmm, visa hunter

OK #3 is blind drunk

#4 – nice eyes!

#5 – ”…the rope snapped and  -” aargh! the bell

#6 – sits with his back to me

#7 –…isn’t it “aged up to 40”?

#8 – no. just – no

#9 – man from the bar! “At last!”

#10 – …sorry, still thinking about  – we’re done?

definitely #9! #4 and #9…

…oh.

OK.

refresh?

I’ll just hit refresh

© Joanna Rubery 2017

Microfiction: Terminal

Door

“They’ve called me back,” she says, letter in hand.

“You’ll be fine, mum,” they all soothe. “Look, it’s snowing!”

White flakes. White coats. White lies.

“I’m very sorry -” but he isn’t, at all -“There’s nothing more we can do.”

No. She’s not ready. She has unfinished business. “Nothing?”

He’s scrawling away.

“Except the usual,” he says, nodding to a door in the corner, an ordinary door, with “Enjoy!”

She opens the door and steps through to sunshine and sea, her bare feet tiny on hot sand.

“And where’ve you been?” asks mum, shaking out a towel.

© Joanna Rubery 2017

Microfiction: The Other Side

Mum and baby

“Mummy!” Hot hands on my face: “Wake up!”

Kisses for breakfast. Hugs for lunch. We dance in the bathroom and sing on the stairs. I wrap him up warm and we wander down to the park again, stopping for sweets. That miserable shop girl never smiles!

He’s running across the road when the four-by-four nearly flattens him again and I scream, but then he waves at me from the other side, as always. I wave back.

“Alice,” says a familiar voice. That shop girl. “You can’t keep pretending, my love.” Her hand on my arm. “You can’t bring him back.”

© Joanna Rubery 2017