Sunday, January 13, 2013

Guest Post: Flash Fiction with Mark S. Bacon

I would like to welcome Mark S. Bacon, author of the flash fiction collection Cops, Crooks & Other Stories in 100 Words. What exactly is flash fiction you may be wondering? As an avid reader and literature coinnoisseur I wondered exactly the same thing.  Not to worry though, as Mr. Bacon is here to discuss the difference between flash fiction and the short story as well as give an example. But before we get there, take a look at his newest release:

A woman makes a daring escape from a bank robbery--with help from a cop. A detective sergeant outwits his inspector and solves the murder at a snowed-in manor. Two con men meet unexpectedly when they’re both plying their trade at the same resort hotel. These are some of the seemingly complex stories begun and resolved in exactly 100 words.

Seven of the stories in this collection have been published in five different online magazines: Stymie Magazine, 101 Words, Flashshot, 100-Word Story and MicroHorror.

Other stories include a man who discovers--and loses--his long-lost love at a ball game. A hit man receives an unusual request and is unable to comply. And a woman confides in a friend that she suspects her husband of indiscretions. But does she have the facts right?

Each entry is a complete story, most with a protagonist, a challenge and resolution. Here are 101 mini mysteries, mini puzzles with unexpected, satisfying endings.

Not just a short story, it’s flash fiction

A short story by any other name would still be short.  But would it be flash fiction?

A relatively new social phenomenon and literary discipline, flash fiction has multiplied in many directions and taken on many other names.  Yet a strict definition remains elusive.

More than 300 publications are devoted to it.  Universities across the English- speaking world, from Stanford to Cambridge, are teaching it.  And notable writers from Ernest Hemingway to Raymond Carver excelled at the genre.   But what do we call it, and how long should the stories be?

Among the more than 300 flash fiction journals and magazines listed in, a website that matches writers with publications, are a variety of other names for these tiny tales.  Nano fiction, fast fiction, micro fiction, sudden fiction, minute fiction, postcard fiction and even smoke-long fiction are some of the ways editors describe their stories.   The latter name comes from the idea that you can read a story in the time it takes to smoke a cigarette.   

Academia seems to favor “flash fiction.”  The English Dept. course at Stanford University is called, Topics in Intermediate Fiction Writing: Flash Fiction.   At University of Cambridge it’s, Flash Fiction, Unlocking the Writer Within.

How long should it be?  That too, depends.   I became attracted to stories of exactly 100 words.   A friend of mine told me he had assigned 100-word stories as an exercise in a writers’ group he was leading.  It seemed a daunting assignment to write a complete story in only 100 words.  But I did it.  Packing in an intriguing beginning, a protagonist, a problem and a satisfying conclusion made it all the more challenging to write but also more rewarding.    After some time, I realized I had enough stories to fill a small book, and “Cops, Crooks and Other Stories in 100 Words” was born.   Since I’m a mystery/suspense fan, many of my stories take the form of very small mysteries or cop stories.   Here is one sample:

Just an Accident
Tim flipped a dashboard switch and a red light blinked.  When Larry got in the car, Tim pulled out.

“So,” Larry growled, “whadda want now?”

“You’re abusing her.  First, cuts and bruises.  Now broken bones?”

“Just an accident.  She wants to leave, it’s her choice.”

“She won’t.  She’s terrified.”

“Then you stay out of it.”

Tim’s speedometer said 45 mph.  He glanced in the mirror, saw no one, then swerved into a concrete wall.

Minutes later, bruised and aching but otherwise unhurt, Tim looked down.  “He was my son-in-law.  Didn’t believe in seatbelts.”

The policeman nodded.  “And his airbag malfunctioned.”

An abundance of publications, such as “100 Word Story” and the “Boston Literary Magazine”  specialize in flash fiction of 100 words.   This word limit is common, but editors at dozens of other flash fiction publications have different ideas.   Some ask for 50-word stories.  For others it’s 55 words, 66 words, 75 words and a few limit writers to a number of characters.   At the other extreme, some anthologies and flash fiction contests look for stories under 1,000 words and some editors consider a 2,000-word story to be flash fiction.  Certainly you couldn’t read that in a flash, and the number of smokes you could finish doesn’t bear calculating.

No matter what you call them--other names include skinny fiction, microstories and furious fiction--these literary tidbits make for fun, if short-lived, reading.

Author Biography

Mark S. Bacon began his writing career as a southern California newspaper reporter covering police and general assignments.  Since then he has written several business books and his articles have appeared in newspapers across North America.  Most recently he was a correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Cops, Crooks & Other Stories in 100 Words is available at and



  1. Great post! Always wondered how flash fiction differed from short stories, so like the smoking a cigarette explanation! Love short story collections, so will definitely check this one out!

    1. I really like how this was explained in here as I always wondered too.

  2. Terrific post!

    I've never thought I'd be right for trying flash fiction myself.