I had fun adapting the title for this post from the witches’ spell in Macbeth “Double, double toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble… for a recent tweet at @bathflashaward. I can’t resist using it again.
A Dribble is the term for a 50 word story, a Drabble, 100 words and a Trabble, 300 words. I don’t believe the writers who came up with these terms toiled to find them. I’m sure they were playing in order to discover a fun way of encapsulating the essence of the form – very short but not only that – something more. Perhaps that is why I took the phrase from the witches’ chant in Macbeth. Good tiny fictions mesmerise. Like a spell, you can be changed by a mere few sentences.
There are many longer definitions of very short fiction including this lovely metaphor by writer Luiza Valenzuela I used in a post on the Bath Flash Fiction Award website
” I usually compare the novel to a mammal, be it as wild as a tiger or tame as a cow; the short story to a bird or a fish; the micro story to an insect (iridescent in the best cases)
The one word or short phrase descriptions for the form are also often metaphorical. According to Shouhua Qi, writing in the brilliant Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction, in China, where the form is currently ‘white hot,’ very short stories go by the following names:
Minute Story, Pocket-sized story, Palm-Size story, smoke-long story, hint fiction.
All these names suggest something more than just the ‘size’ of the work. There are other names that describe the process of writing or reading very short stories
quick fiction, fast fiction, furious fiction, sudden fiction, flash, five-minute fiction.
Very short fiction can be ephemeral, written fast and then forgotten. But gone in a moment, they can also linger long like the brilliant flash of that iridescent insect you might first have seen as a child and never forgotten.
Other terms suggest the places where such stories can be dashed off:
postcard fiction, napkin fiction.
There’s an ongoing debate as to whether prose poetry is the same as very short stories.
‘Flash’ fiction – arguably the term most widely used – in the US and UK at least – was coined in the early 1990s by the writer James Thomas who, together with Robert Shapard collected stories published in an anthology called Flash Fiction in 1992.
I don’t know why there is so much fascination in providing different names for stories 1000 words and under. There are many more names than the ones I’ve mentioned. Longer stories only get the one name – short stories. Longer still you get ‘novella’, then, of course, novel. Perhaps it’s because the shorter the story becomes, the more room there is for experimentation. Nearly everything can fall away – plot, structure as well as most of the words. The one or two word description for the genre, can be itself a tiny story.