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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » What is the Nature & Scope of Flash?

   
Author Topic: What is the Nature & Scope of Flash?
MrsBrown
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The Hatrack competition for flash stories (1000 words or less) prompted this question. It seemed to me that most of the entries (including mine) were trying to pack too much story into a limited format.

I am new to this type of story. An effective example is Inarticulate Babbler's piece Purpose. This example is more of a vignette, a day-in-the-life of someone with an interesting on-going life story. I thought it was particularly well done for flash length.

So what is typical of successful flash fiction? Can it support a complete, stand-alone story? It was apparant in the competition that it is very difficult to use more than one POV. I sensed limited character development, although I think IB's example allowed more time for that. How "big" can the plot be?

This is my guess: that a flash story needs to be more expansive than the snippet that is contained in the words. That there ought to be implied or stated events that come before and after the written scenes, so the reader gets a sense that this little story is part of a larger story. Am I making sense?

[This message has been edited by MrsBrown (edited October 15, 2009).]


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Bent Tree
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I feel you must be very clever to devise a good flash...or a flash that works. I liken the themes of flash more to parable of fable-like morals or thems. Also the writer must be skilled at applying unjarring exposition and I think this is most well done when the writer uses situations which are familiar to the reader which makes it more comfortable for the reader while conveying the insinuations nesscesary to tell a tell with so few words.

So I recomend reading alot of them and go with strong and punchy themes.


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extrinsic
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There's a lot of discussion going around about what constitutes flash fiction. For one consensus, it's all about length. In another arena, it's all about capturing and not editing out the rawness of writing in a flash from a story's inspiration, not necessarily short or long. I believe that both are essential for exceptional flash fiction.

Postcard versus letter.
Candid versus portrait.
Raw versus polished.

Anecdote, vignette, and sketch are not uncommon literary forms in flash fiction.

At least one plot principle common to other story lengths is common to good flash fiction. A disruption in equilibrium in an opening, an irrevocable transformation at climax, and return to a new equilibrium in a resolution.

Shorter works challenge writing and reading skills because every word should count and count in multiple ways, literally and figuratively.

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited October 16, 2009).]


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KayTi
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We talk about this a lot on the editorial discussion for Flash Fiction Online (the online 'zine where IB's story appears, and where 3 original works of flash fiction appear each month. I'm one of the slush readers.) here's a recent favorite of mine called How High the Moon

My feeling is...
There is no space for multiple POVs. We don't see much of this at FFO.
It's very important to establish character right up front. I have a personal distaste for unnamed characters...ones that are just referred to with gender pronouns.
It is entirely possible to tell a complete story in 1000 words, though from personal experience, I know it's exceptionally difficult to tell it well.
As kdw has said here before about short stories, it's best to stick with one mc, one setting, one main problem. This is even more true with flash than short stories.
To conserve on space, backstory is usually minimal or non-existent. If it's needed to explain what's going on in the story, then it either belongs in the 1k words, or the story should be a longer work.
Description can be spare, but stories that completely skimp on description don't do well. Instead, it seems like the authors of good flash choose a few things to describe. Maybe the clothing, sounds, or things like the steam from the tea and the position of the stars in the sky (in the story I linked above called How High the Moon.) They'll choose a few things to highlight, leaving the rest to your imagination.
We've seen flashes that are almost 100% dialogue, and flashes that have almost none. That seems to be a storytelling preference that doesn't have much to do with story length.
We see a lot more tragic stories than funny ones. Either it's easier to tell a tragic story in a short amount of words, or it could be that people just don't think to send us funny stuff. Or nobody's writing funny stuff. I personally prefer the upbeat fare and wish we got more of it.

I find flash to be similar to working with poetry or any other strict form-based writing. It's a really good discipline, it forces you to carefully consider each word you're including. As writers, we should consider trying out these various forms as a way to check ourselves/our skills.


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InarticulateBabbler
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First, Mrs. Brown, thanks. Purpose turned out to be highly controversial, and opinions swayed both ways.

Suzanne Vincent, who was in the first issue wit Bruce Holland Rogers, paraphrazed an explanation that stuck in my brain: If a novel is exploring every part of a house, a short story a room, then a flash is what you spy through a keyhole.

I agree with extrinsic on the value of the word in a flash piece, because you have to achieve your objective in an economy of them. I truncated the beginning and end of Purpose, but if you look deep enough, they are hinted at. Suzanne was brilliant with her word choice in her flash Cleansing--so brilliant it took me a while to see it. She invoked a plethora of feelings with a few simple words.

As for multiple POVs, it worked well in Stefanie Freele's James Brown Is Alive And Doing Laundry In South Lake Tahoe, but that is the exception, not the rule.

Also, Suzanne mentioned a great "formula

[This message has been edited by InarticulateBabbler (edited October 16, 2009).]


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Bent Tree
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I consider good flash something you read in a few minute and think abnout for the rest of the day. That could have a negative translation however because I don't want to spend the rest of the day like, "huh?"
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BoredCrow
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Yes, absolutely a flash can tell a complete story. I can't say I know how to do it. But for me, the best flashes are the ones that draw me in so completely that I'm not only disappointed when they're over, but also that it feels odd to return to the world, even though I've only been gone for 1000 words.

This is one of my favorites, by one of our staff members whose Hatrack name currently escapes me:
http://www.flashfictiononline.com/f20090402-discerning-women-william-highsmith.html
(html code also currently escapes me, but then, lots of things do).

I think that the idea of a great flash is that you can sense backstory - but that the story still has beginning, middle and end. I don't think it's really different from any other length of short story in that way. Maybe another way to put it is that
it's just a quicker event, instead of a "bigger" event.

I've noticed a couple new flash sites that have popped up on duotrope lately, so there's much of the genre to explore around the internet.


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InarticulateBabbler
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You forgot his nick? tsk, tsk, tsk... I don't know if he wants his alias exposed, but I know his nick.
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BoredCrow
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:P
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snapper
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First off, congrats on the victory, Mrs. Brown. Yours did make my top three.

In regards to the competition, only one, IMO, (The Mocking Glass) effectively had the beginning, middle, and ending that most publications require for stories of any length. Of course, what I consider a complete story others may not.

For example, IB's Purpose I felt lacked a completeness that satisfied my tastes (not a commentary on whether I felt it was worthy of publication mind you. I use that story only as a basis of discussion because a lot of hatrackers are familiar with it.) Writing a story of Flash length that has that magical feeling of much longer tale is an art form in itself.

I have read two on hatrack that satisifies that criterea for me. One was Skadder's published humor/Sci-fi Metal Fatigue. A better example is BoredCrows entry in the Dancing in the Streets of the Damned competition IB threw a few months ago (sorry, the title escapes me at the moment).
Both of those stories were full and satisfying. Extra words would have done little to improve the quality of either piece.


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shimiqua
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Flash is a great way to work on "voice". A novel strong on voice can work well if you're Samuel Clemens, but if your not... Too strong of a voice can get annoying after a few thousand words. Flash in my opinion is perfect for "Stories told in a bar", or letter stories, or really any concept based story, because if it fails than it only wasted a day or two.

You can take more risks in a flash.

I agree completely that in order for a story to be successful you need a clear beginning- middle- end(What my story was lacking), and continuing to learn from my mistakes, don't be vauge and expect the reader to understand what you are trying to say without actually saying it.

Being clear, figuring out beginning-middle-end before you put pen to paper, and taking risks = successful flash

IMHO
~Sheena


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tchernabyelo
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Flash can do a surprising number of things.

I suggest reading Every Day Fiction (a flash story every day) and analysing what works for you, what doesn't and why. A few minutes every day is all it will take but you'll learn a lot.


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BoredCrow
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Aw, thank you, snapper! If only I could get a publisher to agree with your assessment...
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LlessurNire
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I too am new to the concept of flash fiction and am trying to figure out what makes a good flash.

Here is a favorite story of mine, from flash fiction online as well. It makes me laugh the whole way through, I agree with shimiqua, it makes a great bar story.

http://www.flashfictiononline.com/f20090901-suddenly-speaking-ray-vukcevich.html


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SavantIdiot
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What do you do with this fiction? Who buys it? Is it just for practice, a learning experience? This is the first time I have ever heard of it.
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InarticulateBabbler
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You did notice that the references and links are to paying ezines, right?

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oliverhouse
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Can I tell you how much I love seeing all the references to Flash Fiction Online here?

Flash has been around for a long time, as it turns out, though not always under that name. There's a great discussion of its history in the Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction, which was recently published and which I reviewed pretty extensively.

The book contains 25 essays from very strong contributors, including editors of flash fiction magazines, the editors of the original Flash Fiction anthologies, and prize-winning authors and educators, and based on their opinions I can confidently say that you shouldn't worry much about definitions. Quoting myself:

quote:
This latter point [whether the existence of plot determines whether something should be considered flash] interests me, and the answers are gloriously inconsistent. Kim Chinquee tells us, “this genre is not excused from plot.” Robert Olen Butler asserts, “A short short story, in its brevity, may not have a fully developed plot, but it must have the essence of a plot, yearning.” Nathan Leslie approvingly analyzes “The Sock” by Lydia Davis, noting that “nothing really ‘happens’ per se.” Sherrie Flick, as she advocates “Writing Outside of Time’s Boundaries,” avoids plot altogether and provides a wonderful plotless image of Oklahoma Men.

My bottom line? Don't worry about any definition beyond what works for a given situation. Continuing to quote myself:
quote:
Having said that, this particular question seems academic.... If an author wants to find a publisher for something she’s written, she has to find a market that fits her piece; whether the publishers think of it as flash fiction or prose poetry or a short-short story is immaterial. Similarly, as a publisher, I’ve created submission guidelines that tell authors that I want a plot, and I’ve rejected many perfectly good pieces of short-short fiction because they lacked plots. Fit for a given market can only be determined by observation. And if an author doesn’t care about publication, why care about definitions?

And don't take what I say as authoritative just because I edit a flash fiction magazine, either. I agree with tchernabyelo that you should check out Every Day Fiction, and I'd add 365 Tomorrows and Antipodean SF on the science fiction side. Then, especially if you're more literary-minded, check out Smokelong Quarterly, Vestal Review, and Flash Me.

Learn to write concisely. (Sorry: "Learn concision.") Be vivid. If the result is short-short stories that you can sell, great. If they end up as a bunch of little exercises that never sell, like a crusting of glitter on your writing desk, that's okay too.

Regards,
Oliver

[This message has been edited by oliverhouse (edited October 17, 2009).]


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LAJD
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I am in a work hiatus right now and am spending the time working on my blog and writing. So, when I read this post I trundled right out, well okay actually clicked over to Amazon and bought a copy of the Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction. I've been working through the book chapter by chapter doing the exercises. I'm not completely done yet, but I doubt I will do the whole book in one stretch, I tend to be a little ADD about these things (and I am prepping for Nano). So, I thought I would provide a interim report on my experience.

I used to be a lot more active here at Hatrack, but work became very consuming last year and I had to cut back. I stayed fairly active at Liberty Hall mainly because of the weekly Flash Challenges. Flash is my preferred form of short story. I find I like the big sweeps of a novel or the precision of Flash. So the Field Guide immediately appealed to me.

The Field Guide is a series of essays and not really a coherent course of study about how to write flash. Although the essays are arranged around topics like Beginnngs and Endings, Imagery, Focusing and Editing, etc. Each author discusses what that they find important and then suggests an exercise that ranges in structure widely from simple prompts to detailed instructions. Some of these exercises I have seen before, but that does not mean that they are not relevant. Some of the essays are more instructive and some lean more toward the creative.

What I have found so interesting about this book is the examples of the wide range of what is considered flash. Some have plots, some no, some dialog, some no, some really vignettes, but the author makes the argument that if it is a complete vignette then that is a valid flash. What all share is the sense that they are complete and whole. It's almost like flash as poetry. And in fact there is a chapter on that. It's pretty cool.

What I have noticed is how I now see flash everywhere. I am a big fan of excellent writing in TV. Amy Sherman Palladino, who wrote most of the Gilmore Girls, put vignettes at the beginning of each show before the intro credits, these little gems are flash. Joss Whedon did the same in Buffy and there are lots of other examples of great short gems that if you look at them with your flash-hat on are really flash.

I can recommend the book if you are interested in writing flash. This will be one of those books that I will work through and has already spawned a couple of stories that I like.

Leslie
(who's first flash publication hits the web next month)


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LlessurNire
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With this conversation topic in mind, I just completed a 1000 word flash titled 'Gold or Bonds?' (posted in short story feedback section).

I thought about shimiqua's comment about a flash story being a 'story told in a bar,' and I wrote, well, a story about a story being told in a bar!

It's an attempt at a humorous story, inspired by reading some of the other flash's on flashfictiononline.com. I would love for people to read my flash and tell me if it is successful (or not). Please see my post in short story feedback.


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