3 Characteristics That Define Mystery Flash Fiction

Mystery flash fiction is a sub-genre of flash fiction and rates as one of the most popular.

Mystery Flash Fiction Defined

 The usual definition of mystery flash fiction is a short mystery fiction story of under 2000 words, usually under 1000 words.

The term is often used to describe short works or short casual works as well. 

While mystery flash fiction is one of the most popular genres, there are others including romance, thrillers, horror, sci-fi, and fan fiction.

Mystery flash fiction is a genre of fiction where there is no set word count that separates flash fiction from more traditional short stories, flash fiction stories can be as short as a few words (while short stories typically run for several pages). Flash fiction is also known as sudden fiction, short-short stories, microfiction, or microstories.

Notable flash fiction include fables like Aesop’s Fables and classics from writers like Walt Whitman. Flash fiction stories tend to be published in anthologies, journals, and collections.

Let’s dive in.

What Are 3 Characteristics Of Mystery Flash Fiction

Flash fiction stories share a number of common characteristics.

  • Brevity. Flash fiction compresses an entire story into the space of a few paragraphs. There is no defined word count for flash fiction, but some commonly used word limits in flash fiction range from just six words on the short end to around 1,000 words on the longer end.
  • A complete plot. A mystery flash fiction story is indeed a story, with a beginning, middle, and end. This sets it apart from a prose poem or vignette which can explore an emotion, memory, or thought without a plot.
  • Surprise. Great flash fiction often incorporates surprise, usually in the form of a twist ending or an unexpected last line. This is not a gimmick: the aim is to prompt the reader to think deeply about the true meaning of the story.

Where You Can Read Flash Fiction – (Mystery Flash Fiction Included)

BookFox  has produced an extensive list of  15 flash fiction websites. This is a list not necessarily a list of quality mystery flash fiction.

1. 3 AM Magazine – 85,000 visitors monthly

I’d known about 3 AM Magazine since 2009, but I never knew they got so much traffic. Apparently, they’re more than just a cult fascination. In addition to creative work like fiction and poetry, they offer a blog, reviews, interviews, and essays. They’re looking for experimental fiction under 2,500 words.

2. Flash Fiction Online – 35,000 visitors monthly

Flash fiction online has a cool lightening logo and they’ve published an annual anthology for the last three years with dubious graphic design but great content. They’re open to reprint submissions, and what’s more, they’re one of the few to offer pro payment for stories (.06 cents a word). Many of the staff like speculative and sci-fi, and the journal has that focus, but their tastes extend beyond that genre.

3. Word Riot – 25,000 visitors monthly

Word Riot releases a monthly issue with flash fiction and flash nonfiction. They’ve got a great pedigree, having set up shop in 2002, which makes them practically ancient because literary journal years are like dog years. They are looking for pieces under 1000 words.

4. Everyday Fiction – 22,000 visitors monthly

Everyday Fiction is a popular home for flash fiction, with stories of mass appeal published often. What’s most helpful is a list of categories in their sidebar, where you can target the type of stories you prefer to read: humor, horror, sci-fi, literary. They pay a token amount ($3 a story).

5. Brevity – 20,000 visitors monthly

Originally connected with the journal Creative Nonfiction, Brevity has captured the niche of flash nonfiction on the web. Look over the published authors in their bullpen — they have quite a few heavy-hitter names. They’re looking for pieces under 750 words, and they pay $45 for each one.

6. Pank – 16,000 visitors monthly

Founded by the inestimable Roxane Gay, Pank draws in huge crowds. They don’t only publish flash fiction, and there is no maximum amount of words on their website, but their pieces tend to be shorter. Pank also has a publishing arm — Tiny Hardcore Press — and is on my list of Best Online Literary Journals.

7. 100 Word Story – 14,000 visitors monthly

100 words is truly micro fiction. They post photo prompts and publish one winner every month, and also have book reviews, interviews and essays.

8. Smokelong Quarterly – 14,000 visitors monthly

Smokelong Quarterly is more important than these numbers would suggest. Smokelong and NANO fiction were the flash-fiction journals I knew best before I compiled this list. In fact, Smokelong was in competition as the standard name for flash fiction — fiction you can read during the length of a cigarette. It was founded in 2003, and has developed a solid reputation as a premier publisher of flash fiction. They publish fiction under 1000 words.

9. Hobart – 13,000 visitors monthly

Hobart publishes flash fiction and flash nonfiction on a very regular basis — almost every day. They ask for pieces under 2,000 words, although they say that under 1,000 is even better. Hobart has a great reputation, and if you read just a few pieces you get a great sense of their swagger and heart.

10. Drunken Boat – 12,000 visitors monthly

Drunken Boat is looking for pieces that use the “medium of the web as part of its compositional strategy.” Meaning, they like video, sound, animation, and hypertext integrated with language. Ambitious, but they have some amazing work.

11. Flash Fiction Magazine – 11,000 visitors monthly

They really do deliver on their promise to publish a flash fiction piece daily. It’s a great place to get your reading fix. In exchange for signing up for their email list, they send you a free ebook of a whole bunch of flash fiction. No erotica or children’s stories, and if you get published there, you have to wait 2 months to submit again.

12. The Collagist – 10,000 visitors monthly

Matt Bell was the editor here for a number of years, but he’s moved on and now Matthew Olzmann and Gabriel Blackwell edit. It’s a monthly journal published since 2009, originally started as a project of Dzanc books. It’s got great excerpts of forthcoming novels, as well as novellas and flash fiction.

13. Lunch Ticket – 8,000 visitors monthly

Lunch Ticket is published by Antioch University’s MFA program. There’s no stated limit to flash fiction, but normal fiction submissions run under 5,000 words. In addition to flash fiction, they’re looking for translations, YA fiction, and visual art.

14. NANO Fiction – 7,000 visitors monthly

NANO Fiction is another one of those journals you have to know if you travel in flash fiction circles. They publish so many amazing short shorts it’s hard to keep up. They also sponsor the $1000 NANO Prize for fiction under 300 words, pay $20 per accepted piece, and this is their stated aesthetic: “We are looking for work that experiments with form while still balancing narrative.”

15. Fiction Southeast – 4,000 visitors monthly

Not to be confused with Southeast Review, Fiction Southeast has a number of marquee writers like Joyce Carol Oates and Donald Ray Pollock. They are looking for fiction under 1500 words, and also sponsor the Ernest Hemingway Flash Fiction Prize.

The New Yorker also publishes flash fiction.

What’s The Future Of Mystery Flash Fiction?

While words are written there will always be a future. Admittedly interest in this form of writing has slowed .

But for the true believers there are still plenty of places to fill their addiction.


Creatively written words numbering under 1000, most commonly 300 – 500, will always have a place in the hearts of the true mystery flash fiction readers. There are still a number of viable sites attracting strong monthly readership to feed the appetite for very short works.

Commercial brands including bookstores steer way from this form of literature because it’s not commercially viable.


The best way to keep mystery flash fiction alive is to add it to your reading list. A short sharp burst of creative writing that makes you think will be good for you.

Did I miss anything?

Please comment below and let me know:

  • what resonated with you the most
  • did I miss your favourite explanation?