Why I Write Flash Fiction

What draws me to flash fiction is the way its brevity foregrounds two things: concept and style. Longer fiction can have these elements too; works like Finnegans Wake may even be dominated by one of them. Such an emphasis, however, is not inherent to the nature of the novel or of the longer short story. Those forms have space for elements like character development and the kind of plot that twists more than once or even sustains suspense across more words than a work of flash fiction can have at all. These things are not required for a longer story, but they are expected more often than not, and a writer working in longer fiction needs to be aware of that.

Where longer fiction takes a flash of inspiration and expands it or connects it with other flashes, flash fiction preserves and conveys the moment. In this way, it resembles much of the short, lyric poetry that is written today. I wrote poetry before I wrote fiction; flash fiction gave me a way into fiction. That said, the kinds of ideas that become poetry differ from those that become flash fiction—at least in my practice. I am far more pun-prone in prose: thus when “A Bad Haircut” becomes an evil haircut, I make flash fiction from it rather than poetry.

All this raises the question of where the boundary between flash fiction and prose poetry lies, but any such division will always be arbitrary. A more interesting question, to me, is how the notion that the two are different can be exploited by a writer. Short, single-sentence paragraphs locate the work in the space between the two forms because of their resemblance to lines (or single-line verses). Long and short paragraphs (though long is relative to the confines of a very short work) may be used to give the work a rhythm in the way long and short lines are used, even if the piece otherwise resembles a brief prose narrative.

If you write in this form, do you play with the line between flash fiction and prose poetry? And how do you do it?

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12 comments for “Why I Write Flash Fiction

  1. June 4, 2013 at 3:33 pm

    I couldn’t agree more with you, Elizabeth. I started writing flash fiction three years ago (while taking a break from my first novel) and much of what I wrote could very well have been a prose poem, but I liked the freedom that writing flash gave me.

    • ekswitaj
      June 4, 2013 at 3:36 pm

      The youthfulness of flash fiction as a genre gives us fewer expectations and rules to contend with, even if the brevity may seem restrictive.

  2. Maree Kimberley
    June 4, 2013 at 11:18 pm

    I agree with ekswitaj – there are fewer expectations & rules with flash fiction. I know I feel more free to experiment when I write flash more than in any other form.

  3. June 6, 2013 at 10:32 am

    I keep dragging my feet when it comes to really giving flash fiction a try, but I keep seeing more and more blog posts about it. I suppose I just need to buckle down and give it a go. I know it would probably do wonders for me in terms of being more productive in my writing output.

    • ekswitaj
      June 6, 2013 at 12:50 pm

      In terms of productivity, I find that it takes longer to write a 250-word work of flash fiction than it takes to write 250 words of a longer short story.

  4. ekswitaj
    June 6, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    Regarding one of the pingbacks above: the concept of “test driving” a novel as flash fiction seems a little silly. You could, of course, use flash fiction to explore a character or setting in a novel, but the two forms are far too different to use one to “test” the other.

  5. June 9, 2013 at 9:30 pm

    So obviously there is already much natural crossover, particularly around their use of deliberate and concentrated language. But what separates the two? Can’t flash fiction use imagery and emotional effects? Absolutely. Can’t poetry tell a story? Of course. I think the answer lies in the primal impulse or driving force of a piece: Prose poetry is driven by imagery and emotion whereas flash fiction is driven by narrative.

    • ekswitaj
      June 23, 2013 at 1:30 pm

      I think that’s a useful way for a writer to conceptualize the difference, though I tend to start with character rather than plot when I write fiction of any length. What I wonder is whether those impulses create products that look different from the reader’s end?

  6. June 22, 2013 at 4:22 am

    The whole is a part and the part is a whole. The 100-word format forces the writer to question each word, to reckon with Flaubert’s mot juste in a way that even most flash fiction doesn’t. At the same time the brevity of the form allows the writer “to keep a story free from explanation,” as Walter Benjamin wrote.

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