If you’ve not heard of Flash Fiction and need a couple of examples, read on:
‘For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never Worn.’ Ernest Hemmingway.
‘Statistically, by the time you reach the age of 25, one of you in this class… will be dead.’ Anonymous.
Everything seems to be fast, we want instant delivery of everything – so why not our fiction? But Flash is not a new form of literature, just a style of writing enjoying its turn in the spotlight.
But what is Flash Fiction? Can it be defined, other than by its stunning brevity?
What makes for good Flash? It’s not a conventional story – Flash can go from extreme concision – a thong of 100 words, to briefs at 250 words, right up to granny pants at 1000. Flash Fiction is too short for fleshed-out characters, plot and, heaven-forfend… a back story!
The work needs to be strong, concentrated – no need to water down. Think first impressions, a glimpse, a few words overheard, wrong place, wrong time; right place, wrong person.
I don’t think you could prune an existing short story into Flash Fiction, each time you cut, something of the tale would be lost until finally with the essence stripped away, the story would wither, held in place only by punctuation... but that’s just my opinion, use your own.
Sharp, or sharply-observed – a word-bomb of wisdom, a flail with the literary lash. Confuse them, amuse them; frighten, shock, or send them off itching to google to see if it’s true. And don’t forget you can lie your head off! It’s all in the cause of entertainment.
Always consider your audience. Is the work for a book or the stage? Assonance, alliteration and repetition work better in spoken form. I’ve taken my seat at Flash Fiction events, listened, relished and sometimes, sadly, suffered cringing until grateful applause sent the speaker away. It’s fine to be shocking, even rude, but not for the sake of it – audiences can smell desperation. Concentrated cursing… in context, or in dialogue, please, but not too much or we will pity your attempt to be more outrageous than the others with whom you share a platform. Extraneous expletives, and even worse, a shocking reveal of private parts will have the audience pulling ‘that face’.
When I set out to write my pieces of Flash Fiction, I thought about what I had enjoyed most when listening to writers who give good Flash. Just one line from the last event I attended stayed with me, shone out above all the other offerings. It makes me chuckle afresh each time I remember, and no I’m not going to tell you what it was or who it was by, but it was inspired, and one of those lines you think, ‘Damn! I wish I’d written that!’
Good Flash can throw in one word that sets the scene: perhaps politics, history or fashion. Use the senses. Stare at things, think up new descriptions for them. I’ve heard images described in such a way they sent a tremor travelling down my spine – and all in a few lines, less than the health-benefits on a packet of crisps, now that is a skilful way with words.
If you try googling how to write Flash Fiction, there is an instant confusion of rules: start in the middle of the story; make the last line explode! Don’t have more than one image, or more than one character; remove all adverbs; don’t have any names… argh! Read all the rules, then make up your own mind what you want to write. If it works, good, if it doesn’t, try again. And because it’s short, you could put the end at the beginning, the middle at the end; mess it all up. It’s the opportunity to play with words – remove all the ‘ands’, ‘thens’ and ‘thats’; try it with commas, just one long sentence. Make it memorable, and have fun.