“Eschew the monumental. Shun the Epic. All the guys who can paint great big pictures can paint great small ones.”
— Ernest Hemmingway
People often ask me why I write Flash Fiction. Surprisingly, some of my readers fail to understand most such works. At first I thought this was just my stories, but on further inquiry I found that they never understood the works of most other Flash Fiction writers out there. Most people found it too high a standard, too subtle an art form or too complicated because, and I quote, ‘there is so much contained in such few words.’
Now let me return to the question I had been posed: why do I write flash fiction? The simplest answer would be, ‘because I like it.’ But that would hardly satisfy the more curious lot, so let me elaborate.
As Hemmingway said, ‘All the guys who can paint great big pictures can paint great small ones.’ That is most true. One can always sit and type an entire novella or short story in no time. But the task they could be given next would seem herculean: to compress that, cut the unnecessary parts and make it a mere 500 words in length.
What is Flash Fiction?
Flash Fiction is an art of writing which—at its greatest extent, reaches 500 words. There are numerous genres under this style of writing fondly called 69ers and such. There are an ardent group of people who refuse to cross 50 words in length; 69ers have exactly 69 words and some are lenient up to 100. However, the broadly accepted upper limit is 500.
I like to stick to the upper limit because most of my works go quite near that. There are two reasons I do this: firstly, 50 and 69ers are way too short in my opinion, for the common man to fully understand the implications. But do not mistake me, they are wonderful nonetheless, once you catch on to this entire concept of Flash Fiction. And, secondly, all my works focus of building up a cliffhanger that is high enough above the ground to be actually exciting. I do this by taking full advantage of the 500 word limit, not in explaining the scene but in putting more action into composing the existing story.
Not Everybody can Write Flash Fiction
We Flash Fiction writers are an eccentric minority as far as I have seen, and mainly because of two reasons (which I still believe boils down to the same thing) one, not everybody fully understands the implications of a work of flash fiction; and, two, not everybody can ably write with brevity while still being effective. (There is a reason why they call it an art.)
A parenthetical question I often receive is where I (and I am sure they refer to all Flash Fiction writers) get these stories from. While we do not get these stories from anywhere, it is not hard to see what the question really is: how do we come up with so many ideas to write.
The secret (although I can hardly call it that) happens to be that we look around and take in everything, at every moment. In short, remember that there is a story in every moment, in every act, in daily life. It can be as simple as a man waiting on the street for a bus. It can be about how he takes an annoying call only to find it was a wrong number and that he missed the bus in the process. This was just off my fingers so you might be able to come up with something else for it. Perhaps a thriller instead of a comedy? Either way, remember that our only inspiration stemmed from that man at the bus stop.
Implications of my writing
Now we come to areas more centric to my work. I wish to take a moment to make it clear as to how my own Flash Fiction ought to/can be viewed. While this may differ from author to author (and is why I am not generalising it) it may even differ between stories of the same author.
Let us consider the example of one of my newest stories. It is titled The Second One and it is, naturally, suggested that you read it before going ahead. It is flash fiction after all and hardly takes five minutes to read through! You might want to ponder over it for a while before going through my explanation below.
Having read the story, a few thoughts would surely have flashed in your mind. I will take into account three of these possible thoughts for my explanation.
First of all, there is the obvious question as to who is shot. This is left entirely to you as the reader. I love to leave out the very last bits to my reader’s grey matter. Fire it up and come up with explanations. After all, whatever plausible reason you give has just as much validity as another.
This is what I meant when I say (as I often do) that I prefer to leave my flash fiction open-ended. There is the story, there are the facts, but you decide how things turn out. And all I take are a few hundred words to set the scene for you. I write my stories roughly once a week so you can fuel your imagination anew with every passing day!
Alright, onto the next issue: why is it titled The Second One? In other words, what so I mean (or refer to) when I say the second one?
Is it the second bullet? Perhaps it is the second of the two assassins? Perhaps it is something else entirely? Again, this makes the work open-ended. Luckily for me, I could achieve this in this particular story; it may not happen all the time. Many of my earlier stories do not have such open-ended titles. At times, in fact, it pays to have factual ones.
The point is simple: such titles attract and remain with people while keeping with the spirit of flash fiction writing — to make your imagination wander.
Lastly, a slightly more subtle aspect in this story is the sequence I shift the POV in. Why do I begin with the night watch when I could have started with the assassins on the driveway? This is for effect, which, if handled carefully so as not to be a strain on the word count, can help flash fiction beyond imagination.
To expand on this, look at it this way: had I begun the story with the assassins, the watch at the end would have just seemed out of place. And if I had to avoid this, my narration would have to end in the same room of the murder, giving no leeway for a little creative presentation that allows you to think. What is the point if you read the story and not participate in it?
The last one, needless to say, is story-centric and merely for effect &c. especially when (an only if) you have words to spare.
For those who ever wondered why I write Flash Fiction, perhaps this cleared it?
Do read all my stories on my Flash Fiction website and circle me on Google+ to interact more directly and, I daresay, swiftly!