A very short history of very short stories

In just 161 words, as rejected this morning by the Tate’s Shortness Symposium.

The term ‘flash fiction’ first gained currency in 1992 with the publication of Flash Fiction: 72 Very Short Stories, an anthology of stories of less than 750 words, which could be read on facing pages of a book.

Since then, flash fiction has reached Haiku-like precision with genre-based sub-forms like the Drabble (100 words), the 55er and the 69er, but there have also been more literary takes, like David Gaffney’s well-regarded Sawn-Off Tales. Despite precursors in Zen Koans and Islamic Hadith, the key feature of contemporary supershort fiction is the miniature but complete story arc.

Social media may be its natural environment. At one end of the scale, someone tweets Moby Dick, 140 characters at a time. At the other end, twitterzine Thaumatrope now tells complete stories in 140 characters or less. While many cry foul at new media which tease short attention spans, the challenge for contemporary writers is packing full and rich narratives into the short time we have.

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