Revisiting the “Flash” Form

I’m teaching a Creative Writing workshop for Madison College at the moment; yesterday’s lesson was on the “Flash” form — Flash fiction, nonfiction, memoir. The zoomed-in essence of Flash can be applied to any genre.

A student asked, “When did the Flash form originate?”

Google NGram Viewer shows “Flash Fiction” arriving on the scene in 1980, taking off in the 2000s…. (No results for “Flash Nonfiction” or “Flash Memoir”.) That’s good news, True Story lovers–we’re birthing a genre right here, right now!

So, what IS Flash? For a refresher, see this first post in a 4-part series I published here in 2018-2019. Follow the link there to the rest of the series, if you’re interested.

While there’s room for debate about some of the defining characteristics of Flash–How long is it? Some will say under 1500 words; I’d say under 500. Does it have to be scene-based, taking place in one uninterrupted run of time? Does it have to take place in one setting? Some would tell you that those moves take up too many words. If you’re trying to write a story in under 500 words, you need a tight focus.

I think all the pundits (who appoints you a Flash Pundit anyway?) would agree that Flash stories start at the flashpoint–the moment a conflict launches a story. there’s no room for preamble.

But above all, Flash must achieve something magical–a literal flash. In a few words, the story must convey an illuminating insight, a surprising observation, a provocation of thought.

Flash not only leaves you wanting more, but able to imagine what comes next for yourself, starting from where the writer dropped you off. The magic of flash comes from that collaboration between writer and reader, that allows the latter to extrapolate the fullness of the story.

With that, I’ll leave you to explore Flash, either on this blog or online. Flash Fiction Online is a great resource for seeing what fiction writers are doing with the form. We nonfiction writers can learn so much from fiction! And for great Flash in the nonfiction genre, you can’t do better than Brevity–the online magazine or the blo

If you’re doing long-form writing–I’m currently at the front end of what may be a more-than-100,000-word family history–there’s nothing like Flash for taking a break and having some fun!

Give it a try–and if you like the result, why not submit it for publication here on True Stories Well Told? Guidelines here.

© 2023 Sarah White


About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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