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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