Since “Aesop’s Fables,” flash fiction has been embraced by writers of all genres. The definition is fluid, although there are forms of flash that are written within strict parameters of word count. Generally, flash fiction is characterized by brevity – under 1,000 words, often under 500.
The internet has fostered an environment of flash fiction readers. Stories are now available for download to portable and mobile devices, and the busy lifestyle of today’s people limits not only reading time, but also attention spans. It’s more difficult every day to carve out a few hours to tackle a novel. It’s a luxury these days to be able to devote time to reading.
Flash fiction is still required to provide the classic elements of story; beginning, middle, end. Protagonist, conflict, resolution. The beauty of flash is, some of these elements are hinted at or implied, as opposed to being spelled out for the reader. This invites reader participation, or a vesting of interest. If done correctly, a flash fiction piece can evoke emotion or paint a compelling picture with an intensity unlike any other literary form.
Consider the following flash story written by Ernest Hemingway:
“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
The story is more in what is NOT said, and HOW it was not said. You, the reader, are invited to fill in the blanks. You, the reader, have been vested with that power, from the writer. It’s quite a gift.
Crafting a flash fiction piece is like putting on a pair of spandex shorts that are just a half-size too small. Every bump, fat roll, and cellulite patch is going to show. Your job, as a writer, is to smooth those bumps and rolls. The creativity is in the structure and word choice; here, more than in any other form, every word has to progress your story or it has to go. Not by chopping and hacking, but by shaving and carving in delicate precision.
The trick is to focus on one, strong image. Freewriting can open doors and loosen up the subconscious, and often there are gems among the pebbles strewn on the page that can be taken and crafted into a jewel of a story. Picture a scene, and describe it through what you feel when you imagine it. Don’t worry about word choice here – you’ll rewrite several times and you’ll have options further on in the process. The objective here is to get the emotion on paper. The carving comes later.
Once you’ve got your scene down, now’s the time to go back and re-read, and choose the parts you want to work with. What’s the theme of the piece? What do you want the reader to take away from your story? What is it you want to say with it?
This is just one of many approaches to writing a good flash piece. It’s good practice, it’s thought-provoking on both sides, and it’s fun to read and to write. Flash fiction has roots that goes back centuries. Everything old is new again, they say, and flash fiction will continue to be challenging to write, and when done correctly, a joy to read.
Check out the links on the sidebar for some great flash fiction, workshops, and places to find good prompts.