As most of you know, I run the Flash 500 Competition and offer an optional critique service. I received this query from an entrant who had received a critique and asked some follow up questions. Below are the questions and answers. I hope the exchange is of interest.
I'm not entirely sure of the definition of 'Flash Fiction' - hadn't heard of it until I started writing, a couple of months ago. Is it Flash because short (gone in a flash), or is the hidden twist an essential part of the genre (flash of insight)?
Flash fiction is a complete story of extreme brevity. You may have seen terms such as micro-fiction, micro-story, postcard fiction and short short story – these are all names for flash fiction. It has to contain the classic story elements: protagonist, conflict, obstacles or complications and resolution. However, the word length can mean that some of these elements are only hinted at or implied in the storyline.
Have you read the judges’ reports and winning stories on the site? All the stories are unique in some way, either in structure or resolution, but they all comply with the need to tell a complete story.
If a super smart judge guesses the outcome before the end, does that mean the story is 'no good'?
If a super smart judge guesses the ending, that will not work against you. However, if the ending is obvious from the outset, that will count against the story.
If it is well written, is it not enough sometimes to 'enjoy the journey'?
Yes, if the story is well written, then the journey can be enough. There is no compunction to have a twist ending, but if the author includes a twist, then it has to work. The only way a twist can work is if it takes the reader by surprise. You have to send them off on a false trail, only to confound them at the end by revealing the truth. This means that on second reading (by now knowing the ending) the reader can see the carefully planted clues. You can’t come out of left field with something that hasn’t been cunningly hidden within the text. The reader has to feel satisfied that the clues were there if only they had known what to look for, not that they were cheated.