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A lyrical short story revolves around a recurring image or symbol with minimal focus on the plot. The image recurs in order to give readers an understanding of the plot; the image itself is usually static throughout the story. A plot line does exist, but in conjunction with the development of the symbol throughout the narrative, and it is not the central focus of the story.
Lyrical short stories are open-ended with no definite resolution. The loose ending allows for malleable readings of the central image. Reader can reinterpret the image's meaning during and beyond the reading of the story.
An example of a lyrical short story is Katherine Mansfield’s ‘‘The Fly,’’ a story about a man who tortures a fly after being reminded of his dead son. The fly is the central image of the story and the development of the narrative revolves around it. The torturing of the fly and the man’s feelings after he throws it away have multiple, open-ended readings. The image could symbolize the man’s inability to accept death, his previous relationship with his son, or his repression of grief. No one reading is correct and many interpretations lend to the complexity of the lyrical short story.
Flash fiction is a short story that has less than 2,000 words (and sometimes less according to certain editors). Flash fiction is a radical distillation of plot, character, setting, and exposition. Brevity requires writers to attend to every word.
Flash fiction starts in the middle of the conflict, as there is no time to set up action. During the story, a focus on one or two main images, such as a deserted building, a broken watch functions synergistically with the plot. As fast as the story begins, flash fiction stories end with a bang. Many flash fiction stories leave the reader at an emotional pivot or an open-ended resolution.
Examples of flash fiction can be read in Robert Olen Butler’s collection ‘‘Severance,’’ a collection of 62 flash fiction pieces. Each piece spans the 90 seconds after a person has been decapitated. The stories come from the perspectives of famous people such as Yukio Mishima, John the Baptist, and Jayne Mansfield. The stories are an effort to examine historical and cultural atmospheres through the imagined subjectivity of each character during his or her time.
Another well-known flash fiction writer is Lydia Davis. Her short story ‘‘The Mice’’ comes in around 275 words and contains all of the elements of short story. The story begins with ‘Mice live in our walls but do not trouble our kitchen’ and focuses on the image of a messy kitchen and mice that do not eat in it.
Unlike a flash fiction that has plot, character, setting, conflict, and some form of resolution, a vignette is an illustration detailing a specific moment or the mood surrounding a character, object, setting, or idea. A vignette does not have a full plot, nor does it develop a complete narrative. It may be part of a series of vignettes or stand on its own.
Ernest Hemingway’s ‘‘In Our Time’’ is an example of a vignette. The vignette describes the character Maera, a bullfighter who dies after a bullfight. The vignette relies on rich sensory imagery and motion to convey the mood surrounding the death of the character.