You may have gathered by now that usually what frustrates me when it comes to fiction is snobbery and homogenisation. I’m not sure if this little rant counts but I did lose my temper a while ago when I saw flash fiction described as ‘1,000 words or less’. No. Flash fiction is fifty words or less. How do I know this? Because almost every short story on this site is less than a thousand words long.
I can hear you all thinking, ‘Jesse, do you have a problem being called a flash fiction write?’ I do, not because I have a problem with that style but because I think it devalues what a flash fiction writer does. When I first heard of flash fiction I was astonished that anyone could write a complete story in fifty words. It is possible, I’ve done it once, but it is hard. It requires very careful word placement and boiling a story right down to the essentials.
Flash fiction is not comparable in that sense to what I write because in a thousand words I have plenty of room to breathe, I can put in all sorts of details. A flash fiction writer has to keep to the essence of the story. No backstory, no speculation, very little description. I think that the only trait we share is that our stories are generally too short to meet the minimum word count for short story competitions. I always thought that was a bit unfair, if they story works in a thousand words why should I have to pad it out with an extra few hundred? But I’m digressing.
I think flash fiction might be one of those moments in literature where prose and poetry intersect. Flash fiction is a prose form but it requires a poet’s precise attention to word placement and word choice, something I think all writers can learn from. Another example of this intersect is a free form style of poem that resembles a paragraph of prose but usually has the rhythm of poetry. Arguably prose and poetry intersect many times in epic poems, the bardic tradition and many others which may be an article in itself after I’ve brushed up on my poetry a bit.
Anyway, my point is let’s not devalue this rare style of prose simply to give very short stories a label other than short stories. If you don’t agree with my point try writing a story in fifty words and tell me it’s not difficult.
I know I’ll be trying and I’ll let you know if I succeed.