Mon 1 Feb 2010
The question I’m most asked is, “What is flash fiction?” It is often, according to Google Insights for Search, one of the top searches associated with flash.
Imagine a reader picking you up, pressing you against a wall, demanding the truth of what you know. Never lose the feel of wall against your spine, the urgency of the demand for something real, the grip of the reader around your neck. Imagine there are only so many words. Imagine there’s but one way to tell it, a single word fit for each slot.
Imagine the moment you begin, the flash desires its ending; imagine the flash holds you responsible so that the tiniest things matter, so nothing burns without purpose. Imagine that reader slapping you time and time again, saying, “No, that ain’t it.” Imagine trying to tell this reader, the one lifting you up, grasping your breath, pressed against your chest, about something trite. (Notice how wrong trite is for this slot, how it ruins things in the worst of ways, how a different word might make it all rite/right.). Imagine you can’t get away without confrontation, without finding something to satisfy the need for meaning in a world gone ephemeral, out of time, where all its words have lost power to convey the real.
Imagine even the title matters. Imagine it captures the back story, implies the aftermath, hints at subtext, works its way into the flash itself. Imagine, out of nothingness, there’s flash. Imagine a world without its history, without its dreams, its flashbacks. Imagine you tell a story like that, in that moment, nothing beyond it, except maybe that title, like the truth of Rosebud, something denied the piece itself, given only to its readers.
Imagine that you were born to write flash, to work in the crampest of spaces, to compress narrative the way the universe was once compressed into the tiniest of spots, so much so that time did not exist. Imagine you write not about the explosion itself, but the moment before, the world after. Imagine you write flash because there’s no time left to write anything else but.
What is flash? It is a machine of compression, a mindset—that desire to make the most minute of movements matter. It is fiction that cannot tolerate uncertainty for but a moment, so it rushes to its ending before it loses nerve. It’s fearlessness in the face of insignificance. Your own “Attention must be paid” in a world that no longer holds any. It’s the urge to get it all down and then to move on quickly to something else. That madness of a room covered in scribbled notes, the kind stuck in bottles and floated on oceans.
What is flash? It’s a very tiny thing that doesn’t want to be anything else. It has jammed you into a hall, shoved you against it, demanded you fill the nothing of space with something uncontainable. Micro. Sudden. Flash. Fiction. Imagine this is what you were made for. And then get to it, before nothing’s left to say.
Randall Brown teaches at and directs Rosemont College’s MFA in Creative Writing and Graduate English programs. He is the author of the award-winning (very) short fiction collection Mad To Live and his essay appears in The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction. He recently served as the Lead Editor of SmokeLong Quarterly. His work has been published widely, both on line and in print. He can be reached at http://randalldouglasbrown.blogspot.com/.