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Flash fiction is a style of fictional literature or fiction of extreme brevity. There is no widely accepted definition of the length of the category. Some self-described markets for flash fiction impose caps as low as three hundred words, while others consider stories as long as a thousand words to be flash fiction.
One of the first known usages of the term "flash fiction" in reference to the literary style was the 1992 anthology Flash Fiction: Seventy-Two Very Short Stories. Editor James Thomas stated that the editors' definition of a "flash fiction" was a story that would fit on two facing pages of a typical digest-sized literary magazine. In China the style is frequently called a "smoke long" or "palm-sized" story, with the comparison being that the story should be finished before the reader could finish smoking a cigarette.
Other names for flash fiction include micro fiction, micro narrative, micro-story, postcard fiction, short short, short short story, and sudden fiction, though distinctions are sometimes drawn among some of these terms; for example, sometimes 1000 words is considered the cutoff between "flash fiction" and the slightly longer short story "sudden fiction". The terms "micro fiction" and "micro narrative" are sometimes defined as below 300 words. The term "short short story" was the most common term until about 2000, when it was overtaken by "flash fiction".
Very short fiction has roots going back to Aesop's Fables and Zen koans. Practitioners have included Saadi of Shiraz ("Gulistan of Sa'di"), Bolesław Prus, Anton Chekhov, O. Henry, Franz Kafka, Lydia Davis, H.P. Lovecraft, Yasunari Kawabata, Ernest Hemingway, Julio Cortázar, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Fredric Brown, and John Cage. Examples of Hemingway's pioneering of the form are the 18 very short pieces in his first short-story collection, In Our Time. It is disputed whether (to win a bet), as alleged, he also wrote the flash fiction "For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn".
Hispanic literature has many authors of micro-stories, including Augusto Monterroso (whose "El dinosaurio" is often credited as one of the shortest stories ever written), and Luis Felipe Lomelí ("El Emigrante").
In Spain, authors of microrrelatos (very short fictions) have included Ignacio Martínez de Pisón, Andrés Neuman, Ramón Gómez de la Serna, José Jiménez Lozano, Javier Tomeo, José María Merino, Juan José Millás, and Óscar Esquivias.
The Italian writer Italo Calvino consciously searched for a short narrative form, drawing inspiration from Argentine writers Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares and finding that Monterroso's was "the most perfect he could find"; "El dinosaurio", in turn, possibly inspired his "The Dinosaurs".
German-language authors of Kürzestgeschichten, influenced by brief narratives penned by Bertolt Brecht and Franz Kafka, have included Peter Bichsel, Heimito von Doderer, Günter Kunert, and Helmut Heißenbüttel.
The Arab world has produced a micro-story author in the person of Naguib Mahfouz.
In the Russian-speaking world the best known flash fiction author is Linor Goralik.
Access to the Internet has enchanced an awareness of flash fiction, with websites and zines such as Flash Fiction Online being devoted entirely to the style. Author Paulo Coelho remarked that the "democratization of communication offered by the Internet has made positive in-roads" and directly influenced the style's popularity.
Unlike a vignette, flash fiction often contains the classic story elements: protagonist, conflict, obstacles or complications, and resolution. However, unlike a traditional short story, the limited word length often forces some of these elements to remain unwritten - that is, hinted at or implied in the written storyline. Different readers thus may have different interpretations.
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