In her essay in The Best of Every Day Fiction, editor extraordinaire and slush mistress Camille Gooderham Campbell writes, “Despite its appeal as a quick read, flash fiction is not simplistic. Quite the opposite; it can and should be one of the most demanding literary forms, with a need for perfectly crafted prose, a complete story arc in a tight space, and an immediately engaging hook.”
As I read submissions in the slush pile at Every Day Fiction, I realize that many writers do not have an understand of what flash fiction is. Camille’s definition is a great place to start.
BUT FIRST, WHAT FLASH ISN’T.
Flash is not some accidentally thrown together words that seem to flow through a writer’s fingers without much thought. Yes, it’s true that some writers are skilled enough, and/or gifted enough to not have to edit very much, maybe even just proofread, but believe me, that’s not me and I’d take any bet that that isn’t most of you out there.
Flash is not a prose poem.
It’s not a vengeful spew about killing someone without developing character and complexity.
It’s not an extended paragraph used to set up a punch line.
It’s not an anecdote-slice-of-life-guess-what-happened-when-I walked-out-to-get-the-newspaper-the-sun-was-blinding-and-I-tripped.
It’s not an article, sermon, op-ed piece.
It’s not an obituary-like report on someone’s life.
SO WHAT IS FLASH?
Good flash is governed by the same reader expectation as any other fiction writing. Check Aristotle. Check Robert McKee. Check Chris Vogler. Heck, go read the bliss man, Joseph Campbell. Readers expect certain things and Camille tells you what they are: a hook, a story arc, and strong prose.
I want to add on more thing, good flash like all good writing should have some point to make, a reason for being that somehow, in small or large way, reveals a universal truth, a moment that brings to the reader a smile, a laugh, a tear, a “Yep, ain’t that just the way life is.”
So when thinking about writing flash, it would be helpful to keep in mind some of the words and phrases that should apply to any piece of flash:
surprising, fresh, original, intiguing, new
compelling content, unique situation, interesting choices made by characters, anchored by time and place, has conflict, has tension, active protagonist, action not activity, complexity not complication, delivers an ending that is unexpected but inevitable
precise language, clear distinct voice, specific detail
Words you don’t want associated with your flash:
bland, mundane, vague, trite, dashed off, trickery, passive, predictable, nothing happens, no sense of place, unclear, not cohesive.
Crafting perfect prose, if that’s even possible, NEXT.
*throws out her vengeful spew* Dammit, another good idea gone bad.>>I’ve seen a lot of “flash” that is really a scene – a nice scene, a well-written scene but nevertheless, not a story. I think something fundamental must change (which is I think what is meant by arc) for it to be Flash. As an example (sticking with my own work as it is safe for me to deconstruct), Darren is Updating his Facebook Status is a story because the woman suddenly realises who Darren is – the change is in perception as opposed to in the characters. However, if only the reader spotted his identity, it would not be enough. So while I love trickery it has to be more than just a clever twist.>>Actually, I’ve just worked out the fatal flaw in a story I’ve been struggling with. There is a change for the reader but it’s not followed through in the story. I’ll see you in a bit, I need to go rewrite!
hey there. Isn’t it funny how conversation between writers almost always yields solutions? Just writing the post has helped me to rethink the story I’m writing!