Fable as Flash and Flash as Fable

they are between poetry and fiction, the story and the sketch, prophecy and reminiscence, the personal and the crowd. ~ Charles Baxter

Pious and pithy, that’s been my thought about “flash,” a current and trendy genre of writing. To paraphrase the tagline attached to Superman stories – “It’s a bird, it’s a plane, no, it’s SUPERMAN!” – it’s possible to point to this and that literary genre and say “It’s FLASH!”

There’s a shock of recognition here, really, because there’s truly nothing new under the sun, humans being humans, inside they still desire love, food, adventure, power.  “Flash” as we know it did not spring whole into the world because of shortened attention spans of modern readers. No. I like to think of shortness in writing as akin to the Celtic concept of the “thin place.” From one side (the beginning) of a short piece of writing to the other (the end), there’s a small space. I could call it a wall. Or perhaps a curtain. Whatever I call it, this space still exists. And in that space, if the author, if I, capture pallid words just right, there’s a crossing into another state of consciousness.

The following lists yanks off the shroud that’s lain over “flash” fiction’s ancestors:


American haibun

Ghost and horror stories




Tall tales

Parables and proverbs

Fairy tales

Prose poetry

Brevity‘s Dinty W. Moore tackles the difficulty of definition of the nonfiction version of the genre:

“Literary nonfiction is not merely informational or topical, and it is not primarily intended to be persuasive. Instead, like literary fiction and poetry, the nonfiction we discuss is marked by the distinct, often peculiar, voice of the author and these works examine the deeply human – and often unanswerable – questions that concern all serious art. … the work itself is individual, intimate, exploratory, and carefully crafted using metaphor, sensory language, and precise detail.” [Flash Nonfiction (2012)]

“It’s FLASH!”


See Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities for an example of a book written in flash-fiction style.

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