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:
Woolf – A Haunted House
Oates – Where Are You?
Hemingway – Hills Like White Elephants
Kafka – Give It Up
Saunders – Sticks
Davis – Spring Spleen
Van den Berge – Trashy Humour
Virginia Woolf – A Haunted House
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?
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!