I’ve wanted to write flash fiction since the first time I heard it mentioned. Problems were that (1) I’m not really a fiction writer and (2) no one could tell me exactly what flash fiction was. It was double trouble for me. And yet, there was this allure, this attraction to the genre that I couldn’t resist.
I asked around. And read blogs and articles about it. Some people said it like a short short story, always shorter than 750 words. Others said 500 words was the magic number. How, I wondered, could I work in plot, dialogue, character development, scene description, and the other elements I can’t remember into 500 words?
Still, the thought of writing a flash fiction piece dangled before me like the proverbial carrot before the donkey.
At the South Carolina Writers’ Association’s Big Dream Conference Writing Conference a couple of weekends ago, I was enlightened and encouraged—enlightened because I learned what flash fiction is and is not and encouraged because I think I can do it. Like the little train, I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.
Luke Whisnant (first person on the left), author of Down in the Flood and Watching TV with the Red Chinese, gave an excellent overview of flash fiction, including examples from literature. He began by saying there were exceptions to everything he says. I liked that about him right away. I mean, really, is there anything that’s absolutely absolute? I know people who debate the Oxford comma, whether internal dialogue should be italicized or placed in quotation marks, and whether exclamation marks should be banned entirely.
According to my notes copied fast and furiously from Professor Whisnant’s powerpoint and oral presentations, it’s a misconception to think a flash fiction piece is just a very short story. A short story is a character based narrative about a unique event, resulting in change. It has a plot, characters, a recognizable setting, and an arc. That can be daunting to think about. All that and an arc too? And believable dialogue?
Flashes (great word) are too short to have character development or plot. There’s not always a well-developed setting. Nor is there a change or epiphany in the character, at least not always. Naturally, there are many exceptions. I’m sitting up straight and thinking maybe.
So what is flash fiction? What are its elements?
- A flash story has a theme-controlling idea or concept, a unifying idea.
- There might be an emphasis on form or language, thus making some flashes more like poems than short stories.
- A piece of flash fiction is like an “art object made out of longing, and the language is arranged in paragraphs, not lines.”
- There’s not a difference between prose poetry and flash.
- Using artistic language is fine in this genre. Simile, metaphor, patterns (triplets), alliteration, and other effects of elegant variation are examples.
There’s more, but I’ll save that for another post. Right now I want to see if I can write a drabble (exactly 100 words) or a dribble (50 word story) without a plot or an arc.