The Seven Best Flash Fiction Stories 

Flash fiction is a form that comes in and out of fashion, but has seized the attention of readers again partially due to the limited time it requires from time poor page turners. As attention spans shrink, works that are digestible in a single sitting become ever more valued. 

The best flash fiction stories are:

  1. Woolf – A Haunted House 
  2. Oates – Where Are You?
  3. Hemingway – Hills Like White Elephants
  4. Kafka – Give It Up
  5. Saunders – Sticks 
  6. Davis – Spring Spleen
  7. Van den Berge – Trashy Humour 

Virginia Woolf – A Haunted House 

Virginia Woolf

What can one say about Woolf that hasn’t already been said? A towering figure of literature: the ultimate writers’ writer. She pioneered stream of consciousness writing, and the world of literature has never been the same! No education is arguably complete without The Waves, or Mrs Dalloway, or A Room of One’s Own.

A Haunted House is a tricky story to summarize: it conjures the genre of the spooky ghost story only to subvert the expectations immediately, possibly offering a modernist take on the form. Are there really ghosts? The disorienting whiplash of images and musings creates a nauseating haunted feeling which is undeniably powerful and disconcerting. 

Joyce Carol Oates – Where Are You?

Joyce Carol Oates (public domain)

Oates is a much cherished household name. Click here to read Where are You

She’s published over 58 novels in her time, so there’s plenty of writing to wade into. She’s been a teacher at Princeton, and has won or been nominated for just about every award out there. 

Ernest Hemingway – Hills like White Elephants 

Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway was the master of taught, declarative, muscular prose. His iceberg theory of writing held that nine tenths of what is going on, as with an iceberg, is happening below the surface: unsaid. 

This visual style of story telling which focuses on exteriors lends itself perfectly to the snapshot potential offered by the very short form. In Hills Like White Elephants the author drops us into the middle of a conversation, leaving the reader to figure out what is going unsaid. 

This story is often taught as part of writing courses, and is a prime example of what can be achieved in a piece of flash fiction. 

Franz Kafka – Give It Up

Franz Kafka (Public Domain)

It was very early in the morning, the streets clean and deserted, I was walking to the station. As I compared the tower clock with my watch I realized that it was already much later than I had thought, I had to hurry, the shock of this discovery made me unsure of the way, I did not yet know my way very well in this town; luckily, a policeman was nearby, I ran up to him and breathlessly asked him the way. He smiled and said: “From me you want to know the way?” “Yes,” I said, “since I cannot find it myself.” “Give it up! Give it up,” he said, and turned away with a sudden jerk, like people who want to be alone with their laughter.


We can see Kafka’s recurrent themes emerging even in this short piece: a sort of nightmarish engagement with agents of the state that leaves one puzzled. But there’s also a totally ineffable hair raising quality to this very short story that defies easy explanation.

Kafka is regarded as one of the major figures of 20th Century literature, and is a wonderful writer to engage with if you are drawn to short fiction. 

George Saunders – Sticks

George Saunders

Image: David Shankbone

One of the great things about writing an article on Flash Fiction is that I can actually provide the entire text for the reader to judge for themselves. 

Every year Thanksgiving night we flocked out behind Dad as he dragged the Santa suit to the road and draped it over a kind of crucifix he’d built out of metal pole in the yard. Super Bowl week the pole was dressed in a jersey and Rod’s helmet and Rod had to clear it with Dad if he wanted to take the helmet off. On the Fourth of July the pole was Uncle Sam, on Veteran’s Day a soldier,  on Halloween a ghost. The pole was Dad’s only concession to glee. We were allowed a single Crayola from the box at a time. One Christmas Eve he shrieked at Kimmie for wasting an apple slice. He hovered over us as we poured ketchup saying: good enough good enough good enough. Birthday parties consisted of cupcakes, no ice cream. The first time I brought a date over she said: what’s with your dad and that pole? and I sat there blinking.

We left home, married,  had children of our own, found the seeds of meanness blooming also within us. Dad began dressing the pole with more complexity and less discernible logic. He draped some kind of fur over it on Groundhog Day and lugged out a floodlight to ensure a shadow. When an earthquake struck Chile he lay the pole on its side and spray painted a rift in the earth. Mom died and he dressed the pole as Death and hung from the crossbar photos of Mom as a baby. We’d stop by and find odd talismans from his youth arranged around the base: army medals, theater tickets, old sweatshirts, tubes of Mom’s makeup. One autumn he painted the pole bright yellow. He covered it with cotton swabs that winter for warmth and provided offspring by hammering in six crossed sticks around the yard. He ran lengths of string between the pole and the sticks, and taped to the string letters of apology, admissions of error, pleas for understanding, all written in a frantic hand on index cards. He painted a sign saying LOVE and hung it from the pole and another that said FORGIVE? and then he died in the hall with the radio on and we sold the house to a young couple who yanked out the pole and the sticks and left them by the road on garbage day.

George Saunders

Think about how much ground this story covers. It just breezes over decades, telling the whole tale of a number of lives. ‘ … found the seeds of meanness blooming also within us.’ In that single line the narrator sums up their conception of self. 

Saunders has won an enormous number of prizes, including the Booker Award, and is a wonderful writer to delve into for first class short fiction. 

Lydia Davis – Spring Spleen

Lydia Davis (not public domain)

Image: kellywritershouse

Widely hailed as the Queen of Flash Fiction, her works are sometimes as short as two sentences. She may not have invented the form, but she practices it in a way that has drawn critics to declare that she has pioneered a style entirely her own. 

I am happy the leaves are growing large so quickly.
Soon they will hide the neighbor and her screaming child.


Andi Van den Berge – Trashy Humour

Best Flash Fiction Stories

Call us a little biased, but we believe the winner of the Letter Review Prize for Flash Fiction is a worthy mention on this list of lists. 

The doublewide trailer Beckie and I rented off River Road was down on the south side of town and had a pit already dug for fires out back. It was the night of our Halloween party, but I still had to close up shop at the Piggly Wiggly, which meant I’d get home after people already showed up.

They’d just have to wait on roasting weenies. I reckoned they’d be fine though.
Beckie made a taco dip recipe she found in Better Homes and Gardens, a Jell-O salad with plastic eyeballs in it, and boiled two pounds of peanuts for them to munch on. She hadn’t told me what our dang costume would be this year. Money had been tight since we moved into a bigger trailer, but Babygirl got her own room. No more sleeping on the pull-out sofa for the big girl. Well. I guess except for that night. She tick-or-treated in her grandma’s neighborhood for the good candy. Beckie’s mom bought them matching princess costumes. I could just see them, walking with her little hand coiled inside grandmas. Beckie’s mom stopped being pleasant once we got together and started raising Babygirl with two mamas. But she loved the hell out of her only granddaughter.
I picked up food at the Piggly Wiggly before we closed down. They only gave employees a twenty-five percent discount so I slipped the nice hot dogs into my purse. Beckie hated when I’d steal. She’d say we already had the old town folks’ eyes on us all the time, but that was all in her head. She’d say if I paid attention, she could see that they all wanted to light us on fire with their eyes as they’d pity Beckie.

Speaking of being a bad parent — the bakery at my store throws out day old baked good, so I took ‘em. Ain’t nothing wrong with a day-old donut. Babygirl loved strawberry donuts. I grabbed the only two left for her to eat after grandma dropped back off. The trick would be hiding them until the drunk adults were gone.

I parked my little blue truck on our gravel driveway. When I got inside, Beckie was fixing her lipstick in the mirrored toaster. My love looked so beautiful, even though she was looked like a bag of trash.
The place looked great. Beckie’d hung purple and orange streamers strung along the ceiling. Babygirl’s jack-o’-lantern was lit up on edge of the kitchen counter, in front of all the goodies Beckie put out. All of our friends were done up in costume.

“Finally!” Beckie said and planted some of her raspberry lipstick on my lips.
“Whatcha got goin’ on here, babe?” I said looking at the stuffed trash bag she wore as a leotard with the top tied around her neck with a shoelace.

“Follow me!” she said as she pulled me into our bedroom where I followed her instructions to get in the bag of trash.

“What is goin’ on here?” I laughed. “You’re lucky you’re cute.”
Truth be told I was just happy to be home with my love and everyone I held dear.

“Close your eyes,” she said after securing the bag with a shoelace to match hers. She pulled me into the bathroom, I could tell by the cool tile on bare feet.
“When you open your eyes, read your name tag and I’ll read mine,” she said. “Okay… open.”
I looked in the mirror and said, “I’m Hefty.”
She said, “I’m Glad.”

Van den Berge

Notice how quickly the author draws us into a world that is rich with detail, and features characters with high verisimilitude. The best short stories always leave us wanting more: more information about the world, more time in the presence of the characters.

If you have a piece of flash fiction you’d like to enter into our prize, you can do so here.


So there you have it, the best pieces of flash fiction are A Haunted House (Woolf), Where Are You? (Oates), Hills Like White Elephants (Hemingway), Give It Up (Kafka), Sticks (Saunders), Spring Spleen (Davis), and Trashy Humour (Van den Berge). 

By starting your reading journey with these gems you will be exposed to some of the greatest examples of the shortest form of fiction, and will be vociferously compiling your own personal lists of such writers in no time at all!