Works of fiction are broken into many categories, and length is one of them. For example, “short story” and “flash fiction” are often used interchangeably but differ. Keep reading to see the differences (and similarities) between a flash fiction vs. short story.
Types Of Stories By Length
Before we start, let’s see where flash fiction and short stories fall on the word count scale. From shortest to longest, the types of stories include the following:
- Flash Fiction
- Short Story
As you can see, flash fiction and short story are the shortest types of fiction. So let’s go over flash fiction first.
Definition Of Flash Fiction
Flash fiction is also known as a concise story. It’s a story told within a “flash” of a moment. Think of it as a single scene from a novel. If you take a single scene from a novel and read it as a standalone, does it tell a story? Is there character insight?
In most cases, the answer will be yes. For example, a flash fiction piece highlights a temporary situation or character to give readers quick insight or entertainment about something.
There is sometimes a clear beginning, middle, and end to a flash fiction piece; it’s just not as developed as a short story or novel.
On the other hand, some flash fiction pieces get the message across regardless. Ernest Hemingway did that beautifully in his six-word story, “For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.”
We don’t know who the characters are within those six words, but we know their situation and feel for them. That piece is the ending to a story we didn’t see. Or, it can be the beginning of something new.
How many words does a flash fiction piece typically hold?
Flash fiction is typically at most 1000 words. However, some pieces have been known to be up to 1500 words.
Also, flash fiction can be broken up into subcategories, depending on the length. For example, you can have the following:
- Six-word story – 6 words
- Dribble (Minisaga) – 50 words
- Drabble – 100 words exactly
- Microfiction (Nanofiction) – less than 300 words
- Postcard Fiction – up to 500 words
- Sudden Fiction – 750 words
Flash fiction is an umbrella term for many varying short, short stories. If you write a piece that’s under 1000 words (or under 1500 words), then it’s safe to say you wrote flash fiction.
Definition Of A Short Story
Aside from a short story being longer than flash fiction, this type of work is typically more developed. Short stories contain a beginning, middle, and end. You also follow one or two characters closely and get to know them throughout.
It’s not as developed as a novel, but short stories allow you to connect quickly with the characters and world.
Short stories are typically between 1500 and 7500 words. However, some short stories have been known to be up to 10,000 words.
What’s The Difference?
Aside from their length, short stories and flash fiction do have some differences. For instance, short stories will typically have a clear beginning, middle, and end. However, flash fiction doesn’t have to do that if the message can get across in other ways.
In addition, a short story follows the same story structure as a novel. Therefore, it contains vital elements such as character development, plot, and setting.
What’s The Same?
The characteristics of flash fiction can be similar to those of short stories. We’ve talked about length a lot, but I want to mention it as one of the similarities. Even though flash fiction is shorter than short stories, brevity is a key element of both stories.
When writing a novel, you can write, write, and write some more to get your point across. Then, you can cut it down to size during edits, leaving in needed bits and eliminating filler.
You can do the same with short stories and flash fiction, but they’re so concise that it can be difficult to tell which bits are needed and which aren’t. For flash fiction, you only need a paragraph or two. Short stories have more flexibility but must reach the point in less time.
Another similarity is that both types of stories still have a plot. A short story has a clear beginning, middle, and end. Flash fiction has that as well, but it’s conveyed in a more abstract way.
What’s In A Word Count?
One thing I want to note is not to worry about word count. It sounds silly since word count defines these stories, but tell the story in the number of words it needs. Flash fiction and short story writing are excellent writing exercises and great practice.
Rachel Poli is an indie author, podcaster, and content writer working on her debut cozy mystery novel.
Although she favors mystery, Rachel is a multi-genre author with too many ideas and characters in her head, often experimenting with short stories and flash fiction.
When she’s not writing, she’s reading, organizing something, or playing video games. She currently resides in New England with her zoo.