The power of Flash!

Posted: August 28, 2012 in Regarding writing

No, not the superhero, not the Ming the Merciless fighting serial hero, not even the kitchen cleaner…No I want to talk about Flash Fiction.

Flash fiction is a term that refers to very short stories. Now very short stories have been around for probably as long as there have been stories in general, think Aesop’s fables, and there have been some notable writers who’ve dabbled in the art of what the French refer to as micronouvelles (micro stories). The famous example that’s often given is of Earnest Hemmingway, though the jury’s out on whether he did or didn’t write the wonderfully short, wonderfully poignant micro story reproduced below:

“For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn.”

The notion of what constitutes flash fiction varies, but the highest word count I’ve seen associated with it is 1500 words. Personally I’ve always felt it shouldn’t exceed 1000 words and most of the flash fiction I’ve had published has been around 500 or 600 words in length, though there are shorter variants out there, for example the ‘Drabble’ which has to be exactly 100 words in length, and as Hemmingway (or maybe someone else) has shown, it’s amazing what you can say using just 6 words.

Now obviously flash fiction has drawbacks. It’s hard to come up with a detailed plot and deep characterisation within such a small framework, and for a writer who’d like to earn a living at the craft, flash fiction doesn’t offer untold riches. It’s hard to imagine JK Rowling owning a castle on the back of a few hundred words, but still, I think flash fiction has a lot to offer the aspiring author.

For starters it’s a great way to boil a plot down to specifics, there’s no room for waffle in flash fiction, no room to spend half a page describing the curtains in a room, or explaining how much like Harrison Ford your leading man looks. Flash encourages brevity.

It’s also great for editing. When you find yourself with a 575 word story you want to submit to a publisher who only wants 500, you have a choice, you can give up (which no writer should ever do) or you can take a knife to your literary child. It’s truly amazing how much fat you can trim from even the leanest stories, and still have them make sense, and you soon learn how one or two words can perform the same job as five or six.

As a final point, flash is a good way to get published. Now I don’t mean that in a “they’ll accept any old guff” kind of way, but plenty of publishers produce anthologies purely composed of flash fiction, and as such they might be on the lookout for dozens, if not hundreds, of stories, so if nothing else the odds are better than if you’re submitting to an editor who’s only looking for ten or twelve stories.

 Anyway, Word is advising me that I’m close to 500 words so I’d better…

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