I have noticed a divide between the old guard of the literary world and the newer age writers on the subject of flash fiction. Many of the newer guard embrace the brevity of modern technology and social media and then incorporate that into their fiction. It is too easy for authors to dismiss the genre. In fact, flash fiction was something I called twitter-fiction when I first saw it, because I thought you couldn’t say anything useful in 140 characters.
I consider myself a decent middle ground between the new and old guards of writing. While I am a newly minted writer, I am also a *cough* 40-something year old who has been reading fiction for 30+ years. I am steeped in as many of the epic fiction stories of the gloried past as anyone. So I am as likely as any to cling to older conventions. But I was a businessman long before I took to college to get a degree in writing. As a businessman, I know that those who don’t acclimate to the changes in the landscape or can’t adapt to new practices, are headed for rough times.
So when I first found out that my senior year fiction class was going to be entirely focused on flash fiction, I was skeptical to say the least. I expected that my senior year would be about a finished novel or extended writing project. A course in flash fiction did not remotely resemble the romantic struggle with a novel-length piece of work I had envisioned. But I quickly learned there was a method to the madness of my professor.
Many fiction authors expand their writing endeavors to include other types of writing – poetry, creative non-fiction, playwriting, etc. This idea is a way to keep one’s writing skills in shape. By testing one’s limits with the various styles of other genres we improve ourselves. The sub-genre of flash fiction does the same thing, but instead of extending skills, flash fiction can help reinforce basic writing skills that authors may well take for granted.
Flash fiction is a medium where subtext and the economy of words are at a premium. Every word counts. You don’t have the luxury of writing a long rambling chapter that eventually takes its reader somewhere. You have to tell a story in 1000 words or less. Or 250 words or less. Or one sentence. So writing flash fiction not only encourages brevity, but thrusts you into a style that can’t exist without it. But more than brevity, it stresses the ability to see the story you are telling and how best to tell it without a lot of what I’ve started calling white noise.
Many readers, including myself, have enjoyed the huge epic 600+ page multi-novel titanics that make up a lot of fiction series. But lets be honest with ourselves, many of them are, dare I say it, longwinded pieces of work that occasionally forget what they are saying. Stray story arcs, endless character arcs, or hyper-convoluted plots are common pitfalls.
All authors could use some experience in writing flash fiction. The ability to craft tightly paced stories that flash fiction demands is a necessity to learn, or re-learn. So while flash fiction is its own unique genre, it at the very least is an excellent tool that we can use to improve our craft. So don’t stay off Twitter. Just use it to make yourself a better writer.