Fri 8 May 2009
By its nature, flash fiction often captures brief moments in time, snapshots of a character’s life. These snapshots can cover a profound moment of epiphany or change in the status quo, or simply express the universal mundane. Flash is like a news story – the audience gets a condensed biography and a summary of what could be the defining moment of a human being’s life.
Much like reporters, though, sometimes we fiction writers get scooped. For example, science is particularly good at coming up with advances and scenarios that even the best writers can’t imagine. The realities of cloning, for example, are far different from most of the speculative hyperventilating that predates the technology (or the political hyperventilating that came after).
Science aside, real life is messy and complicated, and there’s little that writers can imagine that hasn’t happened to someone somewhere, and probably in a more ridiculous fashion than anyone could make up. Take recent events in Mexico, for example; a drug war, flu outbreak, and an earthquake all in just a few weeks? Come on now, Mexico. Your readers can only be asked to buy so much. That’s one plot twist too many if you ask me. What’s next week, a zombie outbreak?
Shortly after Every Day Fiction accepted my story “Aftershocks” (go check it out first if you haven’t already, as I don’t want to spoil anything) a tragic news report came out that mirrored the core events of the story. A 12-year-old boy killed a man, stabbed him in the back, in defense of his mother, who was being choked. At first I fretted over the story, worried that perhaps I would look like I’d just imitated the real events. Not that I was the first to ever suggest such a thing could happen, just that the timing was a little too convenient.
The thing that saved me, though? And really the thing that saves all of us fiction writers?
It doesn’t matter.
If we aren’t stealing (accidentally or otherwise) something from the real world, cleaning it up and presenting it with witty dialogue, a genre trope, and a likeable character or two, we aren’t doing our job. Perhaps a new setting puts a different shade of meaning on the events. Maybe making the hero a different gender will cast light on taboo issues. What really makes a story interesting is the spin and package that the author puts on the events. Stories are fun as a result of language and perspective as much as the facts or plot points. In flash fiction, in which there is often very few events, language and perspective may even be significantly more important.
Our art imitates life. And occasionally, if we are lucky, life will imitate our art. Except for the zombie outbreaks. I could do without those.
Alexander Burns lives in Fort Worth, Texas. He writes because he doesn’t have a basement in which build robots or time machines. His work has appeared at Every Day Fiction and A Thousand Faces.