Flash Fiction

There was a time when I had no idea what flash fiction was. When I learned what it was, I hated the thought. What was the point, I thought, of trying to condense a story into 500 words or less? Wasn’t a short story bad enough? How could I ever fall in love with a character in just a few pages, let alone a few paragraphs?

Then I read some truly amazing flash fiction, and realized what an impact it can carry. Then I wrote a few, and found the poetry and power that flash fiction lends itself to so beautifully.

I believe that every writer should write flash fiction. The benefits are just too numerous to ignore.

  • You can use flash fiction to explore worlds, situations, and voices you aren’t sure you want to devote pages and pages to.
  • You learn brevity from writing flash fiction. There is just no room for long windedness.
  • You learn to tighten your writing. Even when you’re not writing flash fiction. If you learn to see the fatty words in a sentence, you start seeing them in all of your sentences. Even insanely long fantasy series.

If you’ve never written flash fiction, though, please understand that it is entirely different than any other fiction you will ever write. It’s not a whole story, or a whole world. It’s not going to show character growth, or tell of an adventure where the hero saves the distressed person. There will be no love interest, no secondary plots. Don’t write flash fiction like it’s just a mini short story, in other words. Write it like this, instead.

Show a moment. It doesn’t need to be a defining moment, but it can be. It doesn’t need to be a first moment, or a last moment, but it can be.

The important thing about that moment, is that it have some sort of emotional impact. It should make the reader feel something. It doesn’t have to be something deep. Maybe the emotion is laughter. Maybe it’s just creepy. Tumbler has a whole section of one or two sentence scary stories. But maybe it is deep. Maybe it’s a box of gold jewelry at the guard’s station outside of a Jewish ghetto in Germany. Maybe it’s an A plus term paper set next to a bottle of caffeine pills and a razor. Maybe it’s a brand new soccer ball being given to a boy who doesn’t even own his own tooth brush.

Your moment should allude to a bigger story, though. Take any of those examples, and I bet you could write a whole novel. Lots of them, in fact. How many teenage dramas talk about the pressure to succeed in school, or cutting? Lots. And you could sink boats with the amount of fiction written about the Holocaust.

Now, we’ll stop here a moment, and talk about why we would bother, then. Why write flash if you can just write a novel about something emotional like that?

Because many of these large moments are too big for us to really fathom.

Let me share something with you as an example. I was fifteen on September 11th, 2001. I sat in school, and was told that our country had been attacked. First attack on the US from a foreign enemy since Pearl Harbor, and all that. It was emotional. It was sad. I didn’t really get that upset about it. It was a terrible thing, but it didn’t have any direct effect on my life. There were no faces attached to this for me.

Then Daniel Pearl, an American journalist, was kidnapped and murdered by Pakistani militants. This was too small for me to ignore. I lost my shit over this guy, who I had never even heard of before. It was because he was a journalist, and I wanted to be a journalist. It was because he was doing what I wanted to do, and he died for it. It was because it was a small enough tragedy for my mind to comprehend. It would have made a great flash fiction piece.

To put it another way, a novel is a train accident, a space shuttle going off to Venus, a mighty hero on a quest. Flash fiction is a blood stained baby shoe on the pavement, a man seeing Earth grass for what he knows is the last time (I’m going to write that), a cup of wine after the saddle bags are packed.

Homework: Write five flash fiction pieces this week, one for each week day. Don’t judge them for at least a week. Don’t complain, it’s only 500 words and you get Saturday off.

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