Another Column at MyShelf.Com

Behind The Fiction, Past
A Fiction Column
By Michael G'Francisco


Now, what in the hell is FLASH FICTION? Some might say it's a reader's quickie. Then again, this present day Internet staple is a story that's naked and succinct. Although, it's more often referred to as: micro fiction, postcard fiction and a few other names describing its brevity.

As to its length, well it can vary from as little as fifty-five words to one thousand words. In its most common form it's typically seven hundred and fifty words. Why? because that amount of words can fit on two-facing pages in most literary magazines.

Flash Fiction is definitely not new. In reality, it can be traced back to Aesop's Fables, which number beyond four hundred. All of his fables involved animals, such as "The Boy Who Cried Wolf," "The Tortoise and the Hare" and "The Hen and the Golden Egg," to name a few.

Flash Fiction can be described as a "short form" of storytelling. To further explain this meaning let's say if you can read a story while smoking a cigarette and finish it on the last puff, it's Flash Fiction.

Most writers refer to it as a hard, fast and unmasked core of a long story. Yet, it still must have a beginning, middle and an end. The experts approach this manner of story writing by letting the words flow and, upon the completion of the work, editing the hell out of it. Let's consider an example: "The agile, fast sprinter jumped over the downed hurdle" (nine words) or, " The sprinter leaped the downed hurdle"(six words).

What has been done here is to take out the unnecessary description, which allows the reader to form their own mental picture of the situation and allows a forward movement into the story. But, keep in mind; the reader must be kept suspense-filled up until the ending.

I favor a different approach to flash fiction writing and that's to start a story in the middle of a conflict or a major disaster of a sort and hook the reader "in a flash" (a pun definitely intended).

The genre of flash story isn't essential to most magazine editors. Yet, today, most flash fictions are science fiction and fantasy, which are in demand. This is probably due to the fact that great flash stories aren't always easily classified.

A flash story must grab the reader and be interesting without being presented as a personal viewpoint. If it's a message (government, crusade, religious point, etc.) you're trying to relate, be sure to mask it in a good "short-short" story.

When submitting a flash story to a printed or online magazine you should first try to find out their article word limit. Some require between 500 or a 1000 words (nano or micro fiction), while others especially like a Drabble or Rhyme form (100 words exactly) or a 69er (69 words).

Then, there is what some writers consider the paramount of verse or story writing, the 55er (55 words). It contains 10 lines, beginning with ten words, each line has one word fewer and ends with only one word, totaling exactly fifty-five words.

Interesting concept. Let's have a go at it.

Line one: Bill had waited to retire to start his dream project.
Line two: He had been outfitting his tool shed for years.
Line three: A yellow hot rod with lots of chrome.
Line four: It was to be a show car.
Line five: The envy of all to see.
Line six: Yes, the time was right.
Line seven: His wife Jan agreed.
Line eight: Bill was happy.
Line nine: Work began.
Line ten: Awakened!

Well, how about that?

Moving on... Please allow me to relate that there is a difference between prose poems and flash writing: while some flash pieces are prose poems, many aren't. Flash writing doesn't exclude any style.

Oh, by the way, the use of the word "FLASH" instead of the editor's term "short short" or "sudden" fiction is generally credited to Robert Shapard and James Thomas. These two editors have been working together since the 1980's when they met during a meeting of a writer's group. Their joining permitted them to research and write six anthologies (a collection of literary works) of very short, short stories. Because of their work and research in "Flash and Sudden" fiction, it is now considered a sub-genre or cultural phenomenon.

If one has a hankering to enter this field of writing, there are many online publications and print magazines that accept this genre. Here is a short list: The Green Tricycle, The Vestal Review, Flash Fiction, Pixel Press, The Mississippi Review, The Rio Grande Review, The Paumanok Review and Wildstrawberries.

If you wish to read the works of some authors of FLASH FICTION here is a list of the popular ones: Jason Gurley, Ron Carlson, Robert Coover, Steve Almond, Amy Hempel, Grace Palsy and Paul Theroux.

P.S. Don't confuse Flash Fiction with Vignettes, which in theater, movie script or poetry writing, are short impressionistic literary sketches of a scene that focus on one moment or give a particular insight into a character, idea or setting.

2010 Past Columns

© MyShelf.Com. All Rights Reserved.