I find it a bit ironic that the two story lengths I enjoy most are flash fiction pieces and novels. Especially fantasy novels…you know, the genre where you could club a stubborn mule into submission with some of the doorstoppers authors produce.
Novels are what I work on mostly, and certainly where I hope to make the most progress as far as a writing career goes. Not sure if anyone out there actually makes a living mostly on writing and selling flash fiction, but I’d be quite impressed.
For anyone confused at this point, flash fiction is usually defined by stories written in 1,000 words or less. The usual market range is between 100-1,000 words, with wobble room in either direction. I got into flash fiction through a series of contests on the Clarity of Night blog, where photos would be provided for story prompts.
Usually, when working on a novel, I keep pretty focused on that one project. I don’t feel I have a ton of mental margin when working with one set of characters and plot to develop a whole other set for a short story or otherwise. And even when I do have the time and energy, I struggle with short stories as a whole. For some reason, they just don’t…flow for me, I guess is the best way to put it. I find them harder to write than I do entire novels.
Flash fiction is different, though. I enjoy writing flash fic. There’s something about taking an idea and condensing it into such a compact space that I love. I also feel flash fic helps me in a few ways. It has taught me the value of cutting words, foremost. If I need to come in under a 500-word limit, and my story is 520 words long, 20 words ends up being a much more significant amount to cut. But I have to find a way to do it without compromising the story I went to tell.
Flash fic has also taught me the power of implying. Because I cannot flesh out characters and backstory as much in 1,000 words or less, I have to let a lot of it remain subtext. That means both dialogue and action have to work overtime in conveying emotion, historical, and environmental context. There may be fewer words, but they have to shoulder many more times the weight.
Lastly, flash fiction makes me appreciate the reader’s part in the story-telling process. The reader’s imagination is vital to a story, because I can’t fill in all the gaps; and with flash fiction, there are many larger gaps to be filled than you might find in a novel or short story. You have to trust that the reader won’t demand you provide all of those details, and is willing to let their mind fashion the rest of the world you haven’t gotten around to.
Have you had any experiences writing/reading flash fiction? Do you think it can be as powerful as other forms of storytelling?