Any regular readers will know that I’m something of a fan of the phenomenon known as flash fiction, the short-short story. To those unfamiliar with the art – and it is an art – of the tiny tale, it can seem like something of an easy option.
Paying markets for short stories are few and far between and those that do pay tend to pay in magazine copies or cash amounts so tiny that the kindest name for them is ‘token’ (‘joke’ would be an example of an unkind one…). Most publications don’t pay at all, and rely on the delight at ‘being published’ felt by authors to keep themselves in business.
This is because, I suspect, there is a tendency to believe that flash is easy to write, that anything so short must be whipped off in a matter of minutes and ready for publication within half an hour or so. As such, short stories are given little literary weight and are treated as amusing bits of fluff, lacking worth, importance or merit.
This dismissive attitude is unfair to writers of good flash fiction. Good flash is small, but perfect, as carefully crafted as a sculpture and takes up a great deal of time and effort. Because the word count is so small, each and every word must count and be chosen with precision. A true flash has a complete story arc, complete with characters, action and conflict. It can include dialogue, location and more.
But what really distinguishes a good flash from a poor one (or, in the spirit of fairness, from a prose poem or story snippet) is compression. You should be able to read a flash and know that there is more to the story than the superficial narrative. By analysing words and sentences, you should be able to deduce and infer information: information that is not spelled out but merely hinted at or alluded to.
And yes, flashes can be written fairly quickly, and the low word count does make it easier to proofread, draft and polish. However, there is more leeway in longer pieces of writing for, not errors exactly, but for words that aren’t precisely right. The longer the piece of writing, the more you can get away with, simply because the higher word count hides any flaws. In flash, they’re always visible.
But a good flash is like an inflatable life-raft: you should be able to read it and have a whole huge world explode into being in front of you, complete with everything you need to get you safely back home.
Frankenstein in Brief
‘Ooh… I’ve got an idea!’
Several blood-drenched months later, after visiting morgues, hospitals and even the odd unguarded grave, Victor stood back, eyes wide with anticipation. He made the final adjustments and stood back, waiting…
‘Oh God, what have I done?!’ Victor fled through the doors, running away into the night, back to his mum’s house.
Some time later, Victor’s baby brother died in mysterious circumstances. Victor knew it was his creature. He decided to fix things…
‘We meet at last!’
‘My creator. Why did you make me?’
‘I wanted to make a man…’
‘But – that’s women’s work, fool.’