Tue 15 Jul 2014
by Len Kuntz
Even though a plethora of flash fiction exists today, I’ll admit to not having heard of the term until four years ago.
I was a little stunned by the discovery of this new-found form, the way you might be to all of a sudden learn that there’s an extra room in your house, a room filled with delicious treasures.
Browsing internet sites around 2010, I saw that talents such as Kim Chinquee, xTx, Kathy Fish and Meg Pokrass were turning out tight pieces of writing as short as 300 words—writing that was not poetry, though it often had a similar lyrical quality. Some of the pieces were even fully formed, containing a narrative arc and plot, while others sizzled instead, like Molotov cocktails left tossed in the air, leaving the reader to decipher whatever decimation might occur.
The sudden rise of flash fiction’s popularity is, in a way, akin to that of Twitter—both of them seemingly rising up out of the blue while quickly securing a place in our consciousness, should we choose to take an interest.
And much like Twitter—or Flash Chat for that matter—flash fiction is about brevity; about the ability to say something noteworthy or meaningful in a very confined space.
I don’t know if flash fiction’s appeal is, as many have said, a result of our shortening attention spans, but whatever the reasons, I’m happy to see how vital the form has become.
The allure of flash, for me, is that it mirrors many of the writing adages I’d been taught years ago:
- start in the middle of the action;
- make every word count;
- hit the reader between the eyes;
- murder your darlings;
- deliver a unique, singular voice.
Along with these challenges, I love the notion of getting in and getting out, the idea of swiftly painting a picture that is clear enough to let a reader know what’s happening, yet one that also allows readers to fill in the blanks vis-à-vis their own imagination.
I’m far from an expert on the art form, yet I do think the best flash writing gives readers pause after they’ve finished a piece: it stops them from going onto the next because something shocking or wholly unexpected has just happened, or perhaps the writing was simply so taut and sonically rendered that there’s no other choice than to let it simmer, almost soul-like inside you.
Of course there are all types of flash fiction and just as many kinds of motivation for writing it.
I most like being able to take scraps of memory or biography, or maybe just a lovely-sounding line, wrap it in fraud, and then pepper gunpowder throughout the piece. The title of Kevin Samsell’s flash and story collection, “Creamy Bullets,” is a good description of the type of writing I hope to create: creamy bullets. Bullets that bite, while also having the tendency to simultaneously soothe.
While reading novels, we live with the characters for weeks and years, getting to know their idiosyncrasies and foibles. Novels transport us and often occur over great time spans. Reading a novel requires an investment. It demands patience and diligence.
Flash fiction is usually the opposite of all these things. Flash is a shotgun blast, or even a single piece of shotgun shrapnel plucked from within the greater blast. It’s immediate and jarring. The investment necessary is simply a few minutes.
We are lucky today, to see the proliferation of both styles of writing; having our cake and eating it, too.
To the novelists, I say, Bravo! Keep at it. We need you.
To the flash writers, I say, Keep dropping those bombs. Write on. We need you more than you might know.