16 May, 2012

The Shortest Story Ever Told

Happy National Flash Fiction Day everyone! Don't tell me you don't have the bunting out?

In a busy world, flash fiction - ultra-short stories - are becoming increasingly popular. For a generation used to using 140 characters to communicate with each other via Twitter, it's only natural that we should want our fiction to come bite-sized as well. Last year, I read the longest novel ever written in English (A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth) and loved it, but I can still appreciate the beauty of flash, micro and even nano fiction.

The shortest story ever produced was supposedly written by Ernest Hemingway  to win a bet:

"For sale: Baby's shoes, never worn."

How awesome and beautiful and tragic is that?  

Knock byFredric Brown (1948) is another great example. The first two lines of that short story also stand alone to make the shortest horror story known:

"The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door..."

Now I'm no Hemingway or Brown, but I have had a little success with short shorts (of the literary variety - there is nobody on Earth who has had success with short shorts of the clothing variety). The first thing I ever won was the monthly competition Txtlit, where you are required to write an entire story in the length of a text message. Each month has a theme, and when I won it, the theme was 'Biography'.

"He hung out with all the wrong crowd. He was a rebel-rouser, a misfit and an uncomfortable dinner guest. He was homeless and hated, adored and crucified."

So if you are a fan of reading, but don't have a lot of time, there are plenty of resources out there for you. As well as anthologies of short stories, how about trying Everyday Fiction. As the name suggests, it's a website that posts a new piece of flash fiction everyday - perfect to read over breakfast or during a five minute coffee break.

The world would be a sadder place without novels great and small, but I am a little bit in love with Novel's baby cousin Flash Fiction. It's something that just about anybody can enjoy reading and it's a great place to start writing too. Be warned though - getting flash right is harder than it looks! But then, without flash how else could you read a blog post that contains three whole stories in it? In fact, make that four. I'll leave you with something a little longer - but only a little. It won the 2010 TinselTales competition, only took me an hour or two from first idea to edited final draft and was great fun to write. So why don't you use National Flash Fiction Day as an excuse to try your hand at story-telling's tiniest art form?

Dead Cert

There was a crowd inside the betting shop when he entered; the Boxing Day races had drawn the usual optimistic suspects. Cheers and curses filled the cramped space in not-quite equal measure. He pushed his way through the steaming punters to the counter, the icing of snow melting from his jacket.
It wasn’t fraud, he told himself as he waited for the attention of the harassed bookie. Not really. He could have fleeced them for a lot more. There was a time when he would have bled them dry if he thought he could have got away with it, but he wasn’t like that anymore. And besides, it was for the children, not for him. With his winnings he would be able to buy little Timothy that game he wanted and make sure the girls had new coats to see the Winter through. Then there was that children’s charity he liked the sound of – where was the harm in it?
When he finally caught the proprietor’s eye, the man gave a resigned sigh and began to count out the cash.
“Right again,” he said. “Snow on Christmas day just like you predicted.” He handed him the money. “I don’t know how you do it, Mr. Scrooge.”
Pushing his way back out into the cold, Scrooge split the cash in two and handed half to his accomplice.
“See you again next year?”
And with a nod and a wink, the Ghost of Christmas-Yet-to-Come disappeared into thin air.


  1. I do like flash fiction, and I've had a few goes at it without much success. I love writing shorts though; I love editing it away to the crisp bones of a story.

    1. Yeah, I love the way every word counts. I think it's given me a new love for editing longer pieces too. And as writing is mostly about being a good editor, I think that's a good thing!

  2. I loved the stories, especially your first which managed to wrong foot the reader and leave us thinking. Can I make a shameless plug for Flash Fiction South West's 2012 anthology: Kissing Frankenstein & Other Stories?

    You can read about it her and find a link to purchase oodles of copies:

    1. Good plugging skills!

      Thanks. I was new to writing then - beginner's luck I think! In the following txtlit I scored two runner-up places and in the following one - nothing! Downhill all the way...

  3. Hi,

    I really enjoyed this. I won my first txtlit competition too, did you ever receive the prize money?!

    1. Thank-you - and thanks for stopping by! Congratulations on the txtlit win! Which month were you?

      Yes, since writing this post I've won txtlit once more and both times I got the money within a few weeks. If you haven't got it after a month or so, pop them an e-mail because it might have got lost - they're pretty good at paying in my experience.


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