Although there is no bonafide definition or length of the literary genre designated “flash fiction,” it can be considered a fictionally-based story or tale, ranging from 100 to 1,000 words that nevertheless incorporates traditionally longer-story elements, including a beginning, a middle, and an ending, characters, character change, rising tension, climax, and resolution.
It requires both a different skill set and focus to craft. Described as “tight” and “brief,” it mandates that every one of its words carry its maximum weight.
It is not a novel synopsis, part of a longer story, or a short story pruned so that its word count does not exceed the 1,000-maximum. Instead, it is a unique, modern-day, self-contained literary form, which entails a short plot or a small concept. It can be considered a story of a single act, which can be based upon several unwritten ones, leaving the reader to surmise and understand. But it is complete in and of itself.
DERIVATION OF DESIGNATION:
During its evolution as an accepted literary genre, flash fiction has been called several other names.
1). Sudden fiction.
2). Quick fiction.
3). Hint fiction.
4). Smoke-long stories.
Although not then known, flash fiction as a genre can trace its roots to Aesop’s Fables, a collection of fables credited to Aesop, a slave and storyteller believed to have lived in ancient Greece between 620 and 564 BC.
FLASH FICTION UNDERSTANDING:
Flash fiction can be better understood with the following analogies:
It is like a bouillon cube before you add the hot water to expand it into soup.
It is the isolated atom which, when combined with the multitude of others, gives full form to the object.
Like an accounting spreadsheet, it offers a snapshot in time.
Each word must carry the charge of dynamite.
Don’t say it-play it in the reader’s mind, by having him run the filmstrip you started, but were forced to edit into brevity.
It is like losing your job in a flash and having to live off the flash-in-the-pan called “unemployment compensation.” You delete, disregard, and discontinue everything you no longer consider a necessity and use your mind and memory to fill in the areas for which there is no money (in your life) and no remaining words (in your flash fiction story).
It fosters practice in “necessary compactness,” which has benefit in even larger, longer-winded pieces or genres.
It is the essence of the perfume before the alcohol is added.
Writing flash fiction is like emptying the 1,000 unassembled pieces from their jigsaw puzzle box onto your dining room table and only finding 100 of them, yet still being expected to put together a complete picture.
Flash fiction employs two media: words and pictures, the latter of which are provided by the symbolism substituted for the lack of letters.
It is the bud on the tree before spring allows it to open into a full leaf.
Occupancy of this flash fiction room by more than 1,000 words is considered unlawful-and genre-jumping.
FLASH FICTION FOUNDATION:
The writer’s genre choice begins with the size and scope of his idea. Small ideas become the foundations of flash fiction pieces, for example, while large ones lend themselves to short stories and possibly novels. The former entail laser focuses, single aspects, themes, scenes, and conflicts, only vital dialogue, and a limited number of characters, ranging from one to three or so. The latter include multiple chapters, scenes, dialogue interactions, settings, subplots, and complexities.
A novel may illustrate the growth of its main character during his decade-long quest to find himself as a person and the obstacles which deter it. A flash fiction piece may only describe an isolated incident in the quest, but must stand on its own and not rely on anything other than what is included in it.
Every line should, if at all possible, reveal the character and advance the plot.
TIP OF THE ICEBERG:
Because of the genre’s length, it can be considered a form comparable to the tip of an iceberg-that is, a single line may be employed to hint at what lies beneath a character’s or plot’s surface.
“When he was released from prison after serving his embezzlement charge… “, for instance, makes a significant statement about the protagonist’s morals and indicates to the reader that he must have had a shady, illegal past.
IN MEDIAS RES:
Latin for “in the middle of things,” it is a technique that applies to flash fiction. There is no space for long beginnings and character histories. Instead, the reader should be plunged into the piece at the moment of the inciting incident or at the crossroads where the plot is set in motion. Consider the following sentence.
Picking up the gun and glancing at the photograph of the girlfriend his business partner stole from him, Reginald jumped into his car and floored the gas pedal, destined for his house. The reader will surmise that there had been rivalry, betrayal, and disloyalty between the two. His actions and the object he holds equally indicate what his intention is.
SINGLE IDEA OR EMOTION:
The flash fiction genre mandates a single idea or emotion, since there is little space in which to develop more than one. However, the positive side to this seeming restriction is that the writer can deeply explore it. In the previous example, the probed concept may be revenge.
While flash fiction is not a memoir or autobiography, the writer should nevertheless not hesitate to probe his own deepest feelings, beliefs, philosophies, and emotions, and bare them on the page. Because of its condensed nature, a raw essence can be an asset. Forced to grab his reader’s attention from the first line, the author should do so with his deepest, darkest secrets or brightest, most hopeful dreams transferred to his character(s). The more significant they are to the writer, the more passionate they will appear to the reader. If he is unable to tap into such a place within himself, then he should invent, expand, and embellish. This is, after all, fiction.
Although an author can only expect his readers to provide a short amount of attention as they devote their time to reading what he has written, nothing will matter more in their investment than a character or characters about whom they care. The more they immerse themselves in the experience, the realer they will become. The author needs to evoke their empathy, sympathy, understanding, and kindred spirit share of life journey commonality, giving them a glimpse of their own.
Flash fiction, because of its length, can only incorporate the essential characters, interactions, and acts that complete its tale. If the writer devises a plot that cannot be told in anything under 1,000 words, for instance, then he is not writing flash fiction.
FLASH FICTION ANALYZED:
“(Flash fiction) pieces still contain a bit of story movement, some kind of change from the beginning to the end… (A) bit of story change can be all that distinguishes a flash story from a vignette or slice of life piece,” according to Carly Berg in her book, “Writing Flash Fiction” (Magic Lantern Press, 2015, p. 1).
“… A story can come out of nowhere like a lightning bolt and leave the reader wondering what it actually was that hit him” she continues (ibid, p. 2).
The genre affords the budding writer an opportunity to quickly amass a collection of flash fiction stories, because they are short, require little time to pen, and result in initial experience.
“With so little space to tell a story,” she states (ibid, p. 3), “you soon hone your craft. Every word has to carry its weight or be cut. Word flab bores readers in any type of writing, so writing flash fiction is excellent training in sharp, concise writing.”
As with all writing, flash fiction ideas can sometimes begin with a spark, such as an image, a feeling, a recollection, or a fragment. If that idea were a skeleton, it would only take human form if you hung flesh onto it. You can do the same here. Allow it to become the threshold to a story or tale, giving it shape with additional, related ideas, thoughts, and sentences.
Tap into your creativity and imagination. Pluck your past for events, incidents, memories, experiences, and people. Although fiction, flash stories can certainly “borrow” factual elements from your life.
Piece these elements together and expand upon them, sometimes in a creative and unexpected way. Put the proverbial cart before the horse if it leads to something interesting and fresh.
Your piece does not necessarily have to take form all at once. Again, as with any writing genre, you can record ideas in a notebook. If kept next to your bed, you may be able to capture startling, unsettling, meaningful, and/or unfinished dreams as soon as you wake up before they trail from memory.
Inspiration can come in and from many forms and sources, as follows.
1). Your life and its numerous incidents.
2). People you know or once did.
3). Previous writings.
4). Writings of other authors.
7). Images, artwork, and photographs.
8). Writing prompts.
9). Walks, new activities, travel, and breaks from your daily routine.
Because a flash fiction story’s length does not permit any degree of character development over time, it would be unrealistic for the writer to concentrate on more than a few.
“Consider what kind of personality each character has and make sure they act and speak in a way that lives up… ,” according to Berg (ibid, p. 18). “With very short stories, sometimes we just get a glimpse of a character. We only see an aspect of his personality.”
There is no space for long setting descriptions. “Give us something about the time and place in the beginning… ,” Berg advises (ibid, p. 20). “We don’t necessarily need to know the city or date… “
The author must be brief and concise. Instead of a long description about a blizzard, for instance, the writer may imply this fact. Consider this method. “Although Regina had only been speaking with her brother for 20 minutes, the snow had already covered the tops of her boots.” The implication here is that it is snowing very hard. This provides the reader with an anchor. The snow should be important to the setting and hence the story as a whole, however.
Dialogue should be kept to a minimum in flash fiction and any character utterance considered unnecessary should be eliminated, but should, if at all possible, reveal something about the character himself and advance the story.
Speech reflects people’s educational levels, personality, regional accents, and life experiences. Incomplete sentences, nonstandard grammar, and clichés become realistic reflections of them.
FLASH FICTION BEGINNINGS:
“Flash fiction gets down to business right away,” according to Berg (ibid, p. 22). “There’s no room to fill us in on a bunch of backstory or sit through a whole meal with the family making chitchat, before the stranger knocks at the door or the monster peers through the window. Have the story begin just before that action that changes everything. Give us the main characters’ names, an idea of the time and place, and start the story problem or what the character wants.”
Characterized by rising tension, the middle of a flash fiction story is the section where the main character strives to achieve or fulfill his desire for something or someone, but it is also here where the antagonist opposes him. Although standard, short fiction may incorporate a series of progressively more difficult and mounting circumstances, there is seldom space for more than a single obstacle or problem in the flash fiction genre.
“… Make sure there is a problem,” advises Berg (ibid, p. 23). “The main character has to want something that he can’t get, and the story is about if he gets it or not, or moves toward one of those ends.”
Because of the protagonist’s opposing force, tensions rise and reach a fever pitch in the climax, revealing whether his quest was successful or unsuccessful.
FLASH FICTION WRITING TECHNIQUE SUMMARY:
1). Small Idea: Look for the smaller ideas in larger ones and transform them into flash fiction plots. Anything that cannot be covered to completion and conclusion in 1,000 words or less is not flash fiction.
2). Title: Choose an enticing, evocative, or intriguing one, but do not reveal the story’s climax or resolution with it. Titles can serve as initial hooks.
3). Hook: Snag the reader with an interesting or unique hook so he will invest his time and continue reading the story.
4). In Medias Res: Latin for “in the middle of things,” it is a technique that places the reader in the midst of the inciting incident, at the crossroads that ultimately lead to conflict, climax, and change.
5). Conflict: Put your characters in conflict with someone or something-antagonists that pose barriers to the achievement of their goals or quests. Because of the genre’s length restriction, limit yourself to only one conflict. But whatever it is, it must be successfully resolved in 1,000 words or less.
6). Image: As has often been said, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Since this is the flash fiction genre’s upward limitation, this technique is particularly meaningful and may enable the author to eliminate unnecessary words and descriptions. Select a powerful, memorable one, such as a war-torn street, a dying grandparent, or a sunset on Mars. Within that setting the plot can unfold.
7). Emotions: Choose, like the image, a strong, resonant one, pairing the two. In the case of the dying grandparent, the emotion may be extreme sadness or sympathy or even awe during the soul’s transition from the physical to the eternal world.
8). Characters: Space limitations restrict the number of characters to one, two, or three. Four may be stretching it. This also reduces the need for descriptions, interactions, dialogue, and scenes.
9). Scenes: Again, space limitations may only permit one or two.
10). Narrators: Flash fiction is most effective when first-person (I) or third-person (he or she) narrators are used.
11). Mystery: Do not reveal the story’s resolution until the end-that is, during and after the climax. Allow the mystery to unfold for the reader.
12). Twist: Since you have no time to build up sympathetic characters and develop the complicated plot that has affected them, an ending with a twist may be advisable and inevitable. Almost like a joke, flash fiction offers a punch line at its end.
13). Tight Writing: In order to minimize the space you need, examine every word and phrase and eliminate anything that does not pull its weight.
REVIEWING AND REVISING:
Writing, regardless of the genre, entails reviewing, rewriting, and revising. When you feel you have a finished product, employ one or all of the following strategies.
1). Disconnect from your piece for several days. Then re-read it. It may not necessarily sound as polished as you originally believed it was after you have placed some time and distance between it and you. You will view it from a fresh perspective.
2). Read it aloud, placing a second sense on its structure and flow.
3). Have someone else read it, but keep in mind that a friend or relative may be too close to you and your feelings to be objective.
4). Assess the need for the exposition (telling), narrative (showing), and narrative summary sections that you have included. Showing, as you may recall from other workshops, “… means putting the characters on stage and giving us a front row seat to the show,” said Berg (ibid, p. 33).
5). Be sure that you have chosen a tale that fits within the flash fiction category. If it requires several pages and more than 1,000 words to tell, it may be more suitable as a short fiction piece.
6). Ensure the cohesion of your story–that is, does one event logically follow the previous one and are characters consistent with their actions and speech.
7). Focus on character personality, not physical description.
8). Be sure that your writing is as tight as possible. (See the “Tightening your Writing” workshop lesson.
Berg, Carly. “Writing Flash Fiction.” Houston, Texas: Magic Lantern Press, 2015.