So the other day--like, you know, a few weeks ago--I had a brief conversation with Simon Larter (known to some of you as *@WritingAgain) that went something like:
Me: What is Flash fiction?
Simon: Fiction in a flash. [Eyeballs roll]
Me: Okay, Mr. Longwinded, will you post something cool about it on my blog?
(Note: The above conversation is based on a true story)
Anyway...I asked Simon to enlighten us about flash fiction because he's a frigging pro. Okay, he didn't get his MFA (though I'm convinced he will in ten years time), but he's published several pieces of flash fiction, won several contests, and writes like an effing god of flash fiction. I'm serious. If you don't believe me, just check out a few of his stories: Uncle George, Alcoholic Cat, and All in the Timing. If you're still not impressed, go check out his published pieces in Flashquake or Per Contra. He's got another one forthcoming in LitNImage, but they're keeping it secret until April. **Bastards!
But first, a brief bio on Simon, just because:
Simon is rediscovering writing after a 15 year hiatus, and wondering why he waited so long. He is a husband and father of three whose day job in lightning protection may someday provide a wealth of anecdotes for the next great American novel (although he’s Scottish by birth). Between work, home renovations, and child duty, he still manages to find time to write short stories. He graduated from Drexel University with a degree in Civil Engineering, and is currently wondering how to work an MFA into the ***10-year plan.
Now, Learn a little something useful from Simon:
She was the one that suggested we hike up into the mountains to get our heads clear, then picked another stupid fight just as we came to that steep spot where the ledge gets narrow and the handrail’s broken, so if you ask me, it really wasn’t my fault at all.
* * * * *
Flash fiction. It can be just about anything you want it to be. Even one sentence.
* * * * *
"Are you sure?" she gasped. "Do you think it’s too soon?"
He kissed her neck and breathed in her ear. "It’s not too soon," he said. "I really care about you."
His fingers were moving, moving, and she arched her back and stopped thinking for a while. It wasn’t until later, as they drove home in silence with the steam fading from the windows, that she realized his answer hadn’t been the one she was looking for.
* * * * *
It can be two characters in three paragraphs and 77 words.
I certainly can’t offer any kind of comprehensive description of flash fiction here—as a literary form, it’s as varied and multifaceted as any other (and hence defies definition). What I can do, though, is give a sense of the possibilities when it comes to writing flash (or sudden fiction, or microfiction). And these are, of course, simply my own thoughts on the form and aren’t intended to be anything more than a rough guide.
One way of thinking about flash fiction is as a way to tell a story or capture a moment in as few words as possible—no backstory but what’s hinted at, no future story but what’s implied. I often think of flash this way: moments of realization, trauma, humor, memory, anything that holds importance. The two pieces I’ve published thus far have been moment-flash, descriptions of one brief period of time in which everything changes.
Another way of thinking about flash is as a method of exploring small yet significant ideas. If we look at my two brief examples above, we can see that either of them could be expanded into a full short story, or even a novel. In the first, I’ve set up a possible murder and cover up. In the second, the story could go any number of ways—unexpected pregnancy being the most obvious. Each offers a small sense of completion, but hints at a great deal more. There’s much left out of the stories—a before, an after, details of the during that aren’t mentioned—but I can let the reader fill in the blanks; I don’t have to do it.
The last type of flash I’ll mention is the story in brief. These offer a complete story arc, but in a very small space. I think my Uncle George story is like that. I said absolutely everything I wanted to say in about 750 words. Was there more that could have been done? Yes. Could it have been a short story? Yes. Could it even be a novel? Yes, probably. I could have drawn extended parallels between the shabby yet charming natures of both Uncle George and Funland, and explored how the narrator’s perceptions of both changed over time as he grew older—loss of innocence, coming of age, and all that jazz. But I didn’t, and the story stands as is; the emotion’s there, just condensed.
So flash fiction can be many things. I think, though, that even novelists could benefit from trying their hand at microfiction. The discipline it teaches is extremely helpful when it comes to editing—padding and filler have no place in flash. Also, it can help us to think in terms of small story arcs, and what are the chapters of your novel but small story arcs? Even within a chapter, a multiple-POV novel will have 1000 – 2000 word sections written from a particular character’s viewpoint. Could flash help make those sections pop? I think it could.
Why not give flash a try? See what the best flash writers do with the form on sites like Flash Fiction Online, Flashquake, LitNImage, and others like them. See if you can’t write one of the significant moments from your novel in flash format. The time investment’s small, the potential benefits great.
I’ll open the floor to questions and comments now. Has anyone else experimented with flash fiction? Interested in trying? Questions about how I write it? Where to publish it? Ask away, writer-friends. I’ll do my best to answer.
Wasn't that awesome? Feel free to bow down and chant, "I love Simon!" But first, be sure to make some comments, ask him questions, and beg him for his autograph. Seriously. He's like the Zeus of the Writer's Realm. He's even got lightning bolts. Next year, he starts on THE novel. It's gonna be brilliant, folks. Just wait. You'll see.
*This is not just an unusual nickname bestowed upon him by kindergarten bullies. This is his Twitter name. Follow Simon if you want to be cool.
**In the event that I ever try to publish with this magazine, I'm just kidding. They're not really bastards. I think it has something to do with freakishly tight publishing schedules or something weird like that.