Should Flash Fiction have a beginning, middle and end?

Thanks to club member Preston Randall for this intriguing question. What are your thoughts?

Can you think of some examples of shortlisted flash fiction stories that have a beginning, middle, and end?  Examples that don’t have all three sections? What’s your preference? 

Many of the greatest poems are simply a moment in time, and don’t necessarily have a beginning, middle and end.  Should Flash Fiction be more like poetry or more like complete stories?  Should both formats be acceptable?

We look forward to hearing from our talented writers and readers!

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Allan Neil
Allan Neil(@allan-neil)
1 month ago

Yes. Ideally an brief intro, some meat, then, if it can be achieved, a sting! Failing the sting, an end that leaves one happy, sad or pensive.

Margarida Brei
Margarida Brei(@margarida-brei)
1 month ago

Flash Fiction is a complete story so therefore must have a beginning, middle and end. Some story websites even stipulate this is a requirement.

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Carrie OLeary
Carrie OLeary(@carrie-oleary)
Reply to  Margarida Brei
1 month ago

I think your last sentence is pertinent. Some sites stipulate it as a requirement, but perhaps that squashes some authors creativity. Others are more open. I think we have to allow for different styles sometimes. If we all wrote to particular rules I think the readers would perhaps get bored after a while because we’re not allowing them the opportunity of creative thinking if we are too strict.

Preston Randall
Preston Randall(@preston-randall)
1 month ago

I’ve always felt it to be more impactful or satisfying when there is some form of beginning, middle and end. I still appreciate good descriptive writing that doesn’t follow this format, but have noticed some stories in this site that I think would benefit from a more defined structure. As a new member, I’m trying to be careful about how I phrase my comments, and I did wonder if the Voice.Club Team had considered a list of suggestions, especially for less experienced writers or those looking for additional guidance.

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Preston Randall
Preston Randall(@preston-randall)
Reply to  Voice-Team
1 month ago

This is excellent! Thanks so much.

Linda Rock
Linda Rock(@linda-rock)
1 month ago

My answer, and my preference, is influenced by the number of movies I’ve watched, each having a beginning, middle and end. Although some of the most memorable actually begin at the end followed by flashbacks… ‘All About Eve’ and ‘Double Indemnity’ come to mind. So, yes, I do believe flash fiction should follow the same format.

Carrie OLeary
Carrie OLeary(@carrie-oleary)
1 month ago

I think that, in essence, flash fiction does need all three but, as with any story, the ending can be left so that it leaves your audience wondering a little. I think that, sometimes, a reader will think more about a story after they’ve finished it if there are still some questions that haven’t quite been answered. The reader can use their own imagination and fill in some of the blanks themselves or hope that, somewhere down the line, there will be a new story to answer those questions. Isn’t that one of the ways in which an author retains their audience, not necessarily with a cliffhanger, but with a suggestion that there could perhaps be more?

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Melissa Taggart
Melissa Taggart(@melissa-taggart)
1 month ago

I hate to be that person but… yes and no. I do appreciate that it is more impactful or satifying with a beginning, middle and end. With that being said, leaving the reader to use thier imagination isn’t necessairly a terrible thing… Those that continue their flash in parts is an example I’d use. The story carries on with each new installment. A story without a proper ending is what i’d call a ‘mystery’. I don’t mind that personally.

Last edited 1 month ago by Melissa Taggart
Preston Randall
Preston Randall(@preston-randall)
Reply to  Melissa Taggart
1 month ago

I don’t disagree, but you’ve also brought up an interesting point. Personally, I would consider a flash fiction in instalments to be in a separate category from “regular” flash fiction. However, regarding the ending, I think that leaving some sort of mystery or openness to interpretation often adds a richness to the story. But then, it really depends on what comes before and how the story has developed.

Melissa Taggart
Melissa Taggart(@melissa-taggart)
Reply to  Preston Randall
1 month ago

Thanks for your comment. I still believe flash fiction in installments to be flash, nevertheless. I only used it as an example because there are writers on this site that have done just that. I see a real plus for having things left somewhat open-ended for this very reason. Just to reiterate yes, a beginning, middle and end makes sense in many instances. There just is something to be said for a bit of mystery… I have a couple Novellas out there with open-endings and I am currently working on a third part. The reviewers are looking forward to the next installment. Certianly, a flash can be accomplished with all these parts. I’ve read many here that did just that! I just believe there are different writers, who have different styles, that have been successful in doing so. Writing is an art but often doesn’t fit such stringent rules. I find the ‘guidelines’ more likened to lamposts to help point someone in a general direction.

Last edited 1 month ago by Melissa Taggart
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Sandra James
Sandra James(@sandra-james)
1 month ago

Once I would have said that all stories need the start, middle and end but I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t left a few open endings in some more recent stories. It sounds like I’m sitting on the fence but it really does depend on the story. Sometimes I have to know that the couple end up together, or the bad guy/girl gets hit with Karma but every now and then it’s nice to decide for myself. A really good story leads you in the directions, shows but doesn’t tell, and still leaves you satisfied.
A very interesting question, Preston, and lots of good points to ponder in the responses. I am sure we will all be thinking of this with our next efforts  🙂 

Fuji
Fuji(@fuji)
1 month ago

One lovely aspect of being creative artists is that each one of us can form our own ideas of what Flash Fiction should be and write accordingly. In my world view, Flash Fiction is an art form in a class by itself – not just watered-down, words-deleted versions of longer stories. The general consensus is that any story with 1000 words or less is Flash Fiction. But 350 word stories and especially 100 word stories are a different breed than 1000 word stories, so even within the genre of Flash Fiction there is room for a lot of variety. I don’t think a beginning, middle and end are necessary for a Flash Fiction story. The best example is the famous six-word story attributed, probably erroneously, to Hemingway: For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn. Packs an emotional punch, doesn’t it? But does it have a beginning, middle, end? I think not. The three sentences could be in any order without changing the meaning of the story, so they can’t be designated as beginning, middle, end. I keep striving to write a powerful story that does not follow the old patterns – here’s one of mine that doesn’t really have beg/mid/end –… Read more »

Carrie OLeary
Carrie OLeary(@carrie-oleary)
Reply to  Fuji
1 month ago

Thanks for the reminder of that fun story. It was great to read it again! I’m afraid that if I was in Angelica’s place, I would have to fall. Now, is that an ending or a new beginning. I love how playful and creative we can be, stretching those muscles. I think that’s why I also try to write several stories but in different genres for each prompt—that can often challenge the beginning, middle and end scenario too.

Last edited 1 month ago by Carrie OLeary
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Preston Randall
Preston Randall(@preston-randall)
Reply to  Fuji
1 month ago

Thanks, Fuji, for your extremely interesting thoughts on this. As I’m reading through all the comments, it occurs to me that we all have very different ideas about what constitutes a “beginning,” “middle” and “end” – none of which are “wrong.” For example, I read through “Trouble in Paradise” which I thought was brilliant. In my analysis, though, I do see a structural beginning, middle and end, and I would have found changing the order to be less effective (for me personally). So, my personal definition of those terms is probably quite a bit “looser” than many others who have commented here. And, to reiterate, I’m not criticizing anyone for their views, or how they construct their stories. We’re all entitled to our personal preferences, and I think this site is much richer for that reason.

Fuji
Fuji(@fuji)
Reply to  Preston Randall
1 month ago

Well, well, Preston – you have me looking at my own stories differently. I think you are right – we probably all have different ideas of what a “beginning”, “middle” and “end” really are. And no doubt, all of our ideas are correct! Each of us can decide for each story whether or not we accomplished what we wanted to say, regardless of what structure we use. Thank you so much for such a fun discussion!

I do want to ask, though, does the Baby Shoes story have a beginning, middle and end, in your opinion? Not that it matters, just curious!

Preston Randall
Preston Randall(@preston-randall)
Reply to  Fuji
1 month ago

You’re very welcome, Fuji! It’s so refreshing to be able to have such an interesting and open discussion in a safe, non-toxic environment.

Regarding “Baby Shoes”: Yes, I do feel it has a beginning, middle and end in the following sense. “For Sale” sets the scene and creates tension. “Baby Shoes” answers the question of what is for sale, and “Never Worn” is the surprise ending that both satisfies and raises additional questions. However, I think the first two sentences could be exchanged without greatly changing the overall effect so one could question if there is a distinct beginning and middle. And yet, I prefer the original (but can’t really say why!).

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Emily O'Leary
Emily O'Leary(@emily-oleary)
Reply to  Fuji
1 month ago

Love these examples Fuji! I’m with the majority in that I believe it can be perfect either way. Writing is art and, at least in my case, I think we write primarily for ourselves! Whilst there is something really satisfying about having a nicely wrapped story, I personally love open ends. I find it engaging to be left with questions, and room to explore my own ideas on a piece of writing, and as stated above it leaves that story to linger in our minds. Of course, as Preston has stated, I think this also depends on each individuals definition of a “beginning, middle and end” — and I think this varies even more with regards to the type of piece you’re writing. For example, a couple of my pieces I would probably consider more descriptive musings than an actual story (Heart Split Into Two, would probably be one of those) and therefore don’t have such a clear cut beginning, middle or end? Whereas the more story based pieces are a little more obviously structured, even those which are left more open-ended. Overall, as several people have stated, I think it’s important to remember that all creators have their own… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Emily O'Leary
Linda Rock
Linda Rock(@linda-rock)
Reply to  Fuji
1 month ago

I too remember this story, Fuji! As I do so many of yours. I have to agree with Preston’s response, as it struck me too that there was a beginning, middle and end to it. I guess we all do view these definitions differently.

Henry Vinicio Valerio Madriz
Henry Vinicio Valerio Madriz(@henry-vinicio-valerio-madriz)
1 month ago

Both are “correct” since in writing there is no right and wrong, there is work. Let’s remember that an author writes BECAUSE not FOR. Ergo, an author writes because s/he has a need to express herself/himself and present her/his work to the world to enjoy it, not to evaluate it (of course each reader will have the “right” of an opinion). An author does not write for someone specifically. There is a circumstance called “critics” (who analyzed certain patterns creating some rules), but that is just an external factor, it has nothing to do with a writer’s work. It is their job (especially nowadays when everyone is a critic). As a result, every flash fiction has its own personality and needs that carve its content and form.

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Joseph Domino
Joseph Domino(@joseph-domino)
1 month ago

I absolutely believe every story needs a beginning, middle and end. That is what makes Flash Fiction so challenging. Every word counts. You can describe a picture but if you do not include how it makes the viewer feel, think and act, half the story is missing.

Thompson Emate
Thompson Emate(@thompson-emate)
1 month ago

I think that every writer should be left to flow with his creative style. Although stories with a beginning, middle and end give a wrapped package, open-ended stories are also a delight. I love situations when I’m left to peruse a story. I have some issues with editors where they’re straight-jacketed holding tenaciously to the three-rule format. I ask myself, “Why are they putting me in a box?” Probably, that’s why most of my stories follow the three-rule format. Probably, I need to go through my stories to find where I have written open-ended ones.

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