Saturday, July 25, 2009

Flash Fiction

flash fiction--short stories of vignettes of under seven hundred fifty words; preternaturally short fiction pieces, often with an arbitrary word limit; a prose narrative conspicuously shorter than the conventional short form.

Earlier referred to as the short-short story or, on occasion, sudden fiction, the characteristic trait of the format is the trumping of plot over character, thus such a story is more apt to have an ironic payoff or some observable turn in which the protagonist is blown up by his own device (the biter bit). On occasion such stories can have a resonant frequency that makes them memorable. They are certainly attractive for editors who can then use three or four of these for every story of a conventional length (say 3500-6500 words), but the down side is that because of their formulaic overload or their tendency to the punch-line type of ending, they emerge sounding like a joke. Much is made of a six-word short story allegedly contributed by Ernest Hemingway, which would almost by default become the high watermark for the medium, but the greater likelihood is of the story about Hemingway having written such a tale being without foundation.

It may help a writer of short stories to attempt to characterize a particular story, and it is arguably a help for the story teller to have to learn how to use language as though it were a precision tool, but these two factors, even if used in concert, do not guarantee a successful story. The better approach is to write early drafts long, then cut them short.

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