The Difference Between Flash Fiction & Short Stories

For a long time, I had always used the terms short story and flash fiction as though they were one in the same. All I knew was that they were stories that were not long… simple as that. Right?

Of course, this was when I was younger. As I got older and dabbled more in the writing world, I realized how wrong I was. Then again, I wrote a lot on the Fan Fiction website and 100-word stories were called “drabbles.” I thought that was the only difference between flash fiction and short stories. 100 words were drabbles and anything higher was a short story and/or flash fiction because they totally meant the same thing.

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What is a short story?

A short story is exactly as it sounds – it’s a story that’s significantly shorter than a novel or novella. Aside from length, a short story has pretty much everything in common with a novel. It has a fleshed-out plot, well-rounded characters, and a developed setting and theme.

What is a flash fiction?

A flash fiction is essentially the same thing, only the story is told in a couple hundred words or so. It has a well thought out plot and great characters, but they don’t necessarily need to be fully developed. It helps, yes, but I’ve read my fair share of flash fiction where some things were left up to my own imagination and I personally like it that way.

How many words is a short story?

According to Writer’s Digest, a short story is typically 1,500 words to about 30,000 words which is when it crosses over to novella territory. However, I personally have seen some short stories go up to 10- or 15,000 words. If you know of one that’s actually near 30,000 words, let me know. I’m curious. Whenever I write short stories, they typically don’t get longer than 5,000 words or so… unless I’m writing a short story about George and Lilah. Then I can get up to 10,000 or even 15,000 words. Maybe even 20,000 words. I have a lot of fun with those characters.

How many words is a flash fiction?

Since flash fiction is shorter than short stories, flash fiction is considered to be anywhere under 1,500 words. Flash fiction can vary from being 500 words or as low as 100 words. I’m sure you’ve all heard of 6-word stories before. There are a few fairly famous ones. Then again, 6-word stories may be considered micro fiction… if that’s even a real term. I may be making that one up.

Which one should you write?

Both. Flash fiction and short stories are great practice for writing in general – characters, pacing, plot, everything. It helps to challenge yourself into writing a complete story within a certain amount of words. I’ll admit, I sometimes decide to write flash fiction and then it turns into a short story because I get carried away with the current plot I’m building.

If I think about it, my Short Story Sundays should be Flash Fiction Fridays.

Which do you prefer? Do you read and write shorts, flashes, or both? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. If you liked this post, please share it around.

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12 thoughts on “The Difference Between Flash Fiction & Short Stories

    • Agreed. I’ve fallen in love with writing short pieces, which is something I never saw myself doing. I wrote short pieces for the blog but that was it. Now my writing has expanded and I’m creating short story collections. It’s amazing how things change/improve.
      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  1. You’re right, flash fiction is so great to practice tighter writing.

    Also, I’ve seen in some markets that they call short stories >10k words but <50k words "novelettes," which I like because I think the word "novelette" is adorable. That may be another reason for a dearth in stories about 30k words.

    • The word counts definitely vary on who you’re talking to. The ballpark I wrote was from Writer’s Digest, but I personally think 30k is too long for a short story, lol. I think between 10k and 15k is a good margin. But I guess it depends on the type of story and how long it takes to get the message across.

  2. Microfiction is a real term, although like these others, people differ on its definition. I’d say microfiction is 100 words or less, but then, I participate in a “flash fiction” challenge that’s 100 words, so what do I know, right? Writer’s Digest may say that short stories can be up to 30,000 words, but in the magazines I read and submit to, that’s definitely in the novelette range. Anything over 10,000 words is a hard sell in the short story business.

  3. I do have Flash Fiction Friday as one of my regular blogs. I aim to keep them under 1,000 words so readers feel they have time to stop and read. I have written lots of short stories which naturally seemed to fall between 1,000and 5,000 and for a long while I did not write anything between short stories and long novels. Then two very different stories I was writing turned into novellas at about 23,000 words.

Let me know your thoughts!

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