How long is long and how short is short? No matter how well-argued, theoreticians are debating this question just for the sake of discussion, and never with a goal of having a final say on it.
What Is Flash Fiction and Where Does It Come From?
Flash fiction has been the most widely growing fiction phenomenon in the 21st century, with its roots and great popularization in Canada and the US.
Some argue that it always existed in one form or another: anecdote, joke, myth, fable, fragment, allegory etc. Others make the connection between the development of prose poetry as a catalyst for the birth of flash fiction. Many go even further and try to be as exact as they can, indicating Edgar Allan Poe as the father of flash fiction.
Another point of much discussion is the nomenclature of flash fiction. There are so many variations of it. If we were to group them, then it’s easy to see that some contain the word ‘fiction’: flash fiction, microfiction, minute fiction, thus emphasizing the genre.
Other names for flash fiction contain the word ‘story’ i.e. ‘short story’: short-short story, micro story, so as to indicate that it has derived from the short story. This does seem to degrade flash fiction a little, since it may give the impression of a subgenre, even though it deserves a special place of its own.
And then, there are the names which suggest the effects these shorts cause on the reader, therefore: flash fiction, sudden fiction, minute fiction, implying the shortness and the element of surprise as characteristic of these narratives.
Perhaps, the most important and harsh debate is on the word count of this fiction. It can’t easily be determined, just as with all the other elements of this widely disputed phenomenon.
This results with opinionators who promote flash fiction as prose of 100 words, to the most widely accepted group that limits it from 250 to 750 words, and the ones who don’t like many restrictions and categorizations and accept anything under 2,000 words as flash fiction.
Personally, I support the medium group, because it gives just enough limitation as to arouse creativity, whereas it also categorizes itself as a special genre.
Practicing Flash Fiction
The reason for the popularization of shorts is straightforward enough: people want fast bites in these dynamic and time-restrictive times.
What’s more important to pinpoint, though, is the superior nature of writing flash fiction.
Flash fiction condenses meaning in the shortest possible prose form. Microfiction is about lyrical writing. Just like in poetry, every word should have appropriate weight; bring that ‘magical’ element to the story.
And although these stories are read in a matter of a minute or two, the best ones often linger in our minds much longer than a longer read, say a novel.
This kind of writing requires specific talent for expression. Plus, it’s the best exercise for writing longer forms in the future. Attempting a novel without having written many short stories is like trying to be a professional without ever being an amateur. It doesn’t cut it.
In an interview for the Paris Review, Gabriel Garcia Marquez says:
One of the most difficult things is the first paragraph. I have spent many months on a first paragraph, and once I get it, the rest just comes out very easily. In the first paragraph you solve most of the problems with your book. The theme is defined, the style, the tone. That’s why writing a book of short stories is much more difficult than writing a novel. Every time you write a short story, you have to begin all over again.
So rather than dreaming about writing the next great American novel, why not give writing shorts a go and become a master of expressive meaning?
What’s your experience with flash fiction?
For fifteen minutes write a short-short story. It can be as short as 100 words. Actually, the shorter the better. This practice is all about learning to condense a story as much as possible.
As usual, don’t forget to peak into others’ practices and support them with your feedback.