For those who want to engage with literary writing but who may not have the time or energy to dedicate to a full-length novel, flash fiction and non-fiction has increasingly found a ready audience. In addition, most flash is often published online at a number of exciting and well-regarded online publications. Today, I want to share some of my journey with writing flash as well as provide some resources to help you jumpstart your own flash fiction writing.
First, what is it? Well, the industry still debates what exactly constitutes flash, but most agree that flash pieces are 1,000 words or less. Some publishers prefer to publish stories at 750 words or less or even 500 words or less, which then begs the question – when is it flash and when is it micro? For our purposes, let’s call anything at or less than 1,000 words to be flash. My favorite description of flash fiction comes from the Chinese definition, which is fiction that can be read during the course of smoking one cigarette, earning it one particularly fine name: the Smokelong. Incidentally, one of the premiere publishers of flash fiction/non-fiction is the online literary journal SmokeLong Quarterly.
Next, why flash? Writing flash fiction can be a way to keep your writing fresh and exciting, as well as offer you the opportunity to break away from other projects. As I’ve moved away from short-story writing and into novels, I’ve needed a place where I can create shorter works requiring slightly less time commitment than, say, a short story or, ach!, beginning another novel entirely. Additionally, because of the rising demand for quick hits of good prose, flash publications and online journals are on the rise and they can often be a critical foot-in-the-door opportunity for emerging writers.
And finally, flash is fun. Quick. Low investment. And often, surprisingly good.
So here are the nuts and bolts for how to get this practice going. I came to flash through the suggestion of another writer and friend, Hobie Anthony, when we were in a writing group together. “Yeah, ok,” I found myself saying at our meetings, “but what is flash exactly?” Flash has this kind of amorphism that initially repelled me but now appeals to me on so many levels. Is it a vignette, a character sketch, a setting description, a tiny story complete with plot and characters? Yes, and yes, and yes, and yes. It can be any of those. It might have a plot – it might not. In most cases, the bulk of the plot lies off the page, implied rather than exposed, a shadow of an experience which the skilled flash writer can evoke through the barest means possible. Flash can be anything and everything.
Sure, sure, that’s all good and well, you’re probably thinking, but how do I do it? Well, I’ll tell you – you pick up some good flash fiction craft books and you do the exercises. No joke – nearly every flash piece I’ve had published so far began as a writing exercise – a feat I certainly can’t claim for any of the short stories I started from a writing exercise! Best of all – every flash craft book I’m going to share with you includes a huge range of flash pieces to illustrate the techniques being described. With one purchase supporting these craft book authors, you’re also getting a fabulous anthology of flash. So here they are:
Rose Metal Press Field Guides – one for Flash Fiction, Flash Non-fiction, and Prose Poetry. These were my very first craft books and they were wonderfully helpful in teaching me how to write flash.
Brevity A Flash Fiction Handbook by David Galef
Short-Form Creative Writign A Writer’s Guide and Anthology by H.K. Hummel and Stephanie Lenox
Flash! Writing the Very Short Story by John Dufresne
Next, you can improve your understanding of flash by reading the preeminent publishers of the genre:
Brevity – Flash Non-fiction
And some additional resources:
Best Small Fictions Anthology – formerly published by Braddock Avenue Books, currently published by Sonder Press. This anthology began in 2015 and has been published yearly since. What’s particularly helpful about this anthology is that it includes where the flash was originally published and from there, your world of where to read – and someday submit! – flash fiction will open up.