Flash Fiction, A few words. Not too many. I promise.
Not too long ago, a time which should have been left for doing something else. I came upon the term Flash Fiction on the Internet. Faster than you can say, “Look a cat”, I was Googling* away, trying to learn all I that I could about flash fiction.
I’ve been anxious to step back into the published waters and this seemed the fastest way to go about it. I had some old stories, yellowing for sure, but just begging to be re-born as Flash Fiction.
My memory let me down in this instance. I thought that all that would be necessary would be a little dusting off of some old chestnuts and then off it would go to some flash fiction publication. But have you ever seen an old chestnut? They’re foul looking, sticky and just a little gooey. I would not eat one of those things. Re-reading my old stories did not bring joy to my heart. If you think I’m bad now, with the comma-splicing and all, you should have read me back in the day. Much worse.
The other area where memory failed to serve was in remembering just how short my stories actually were; not very. Well, they were short for novels, but most were several thousands of words too long for flash fiction. There would be some re-imagining and re-writing required in order to get any of my stories into the target range of less than 1,000 words, or better yet, less than 500 words.
Eventually I chose on old favorite, a shorter old favorite. I did some minor re-working of the story and sent it off for publication. I fully expected to be cashing a $60 check in just a few weeks’ time. It had worked that way for me in the past.
Anyway, the weeks came and they went and I heard nothing until… an email. Not a check, but a very polite rejection.
I have several theories as to why my story was not accepted for publication. All of them conveniently ignore any possibility that the writing itself may have been at fault. Although an almost total disregard for the rules of flash fiction does loom as a possibility.
Flash fiction should have a beginning, middle and end. I had a beginning, definitely had a middle, but the end? No one died, nothing was resolved, the reader could expect that the story would gone on mostly unchanged day after day. That’s a legitimate ending for some literature or even a frustrating stage play but not flash fiction. The story should come to a close; it is a complete story unto itself, not Chapter One of something else.
In order to be kind to your editor the genre should be definable. My story was written for young adults (seriously young adults, my eight-year old son) yet it featured ghosting and taunting, so it was sort of a horror story. An editor hoping to satisfy blood-lusting horror readers would only disappoint their subscribers with my YA-horror tripe. (In defense of all tripe writers: It’s not easy writing good tripe. Anyone up to eight-years old should love tripe while starting at around ten-years old, they're likely to be too embarrassed to admit they ever enjoyed it. Luckily for tripe-writers everywhere, readers over twenty-one can guiltlessly indulge in a nostalgic tripe-fest every now and then.)
That’s not to say that I’ve given up on the notion of writing some flash fiction. Although, it may turn out that the format is not for me. It’s a little like Haiku or Bernie Taupin lyrics, an acquired taste. Still, at only 300 words, more or less, the temptation is too great not to give it another try. Hacks like me just need to remember that this is not some throw-away format. Writing flash fiction is a serious business. You only have a few hundred words to get your tale out. You’ll need to zero in on the gist of your story quickly as well as exercise an economy of words that would make Hemingway look like a chatter-box.
I did consider peppering this space with many of the useful links that I’ve captured regarding flash fiction. But links in a blog can quickly grow stale, turning every link into a short hop to a 404 error message faster than you can say, “Look, a Cat!”
* I’m hoping that when using some variation of the word google to referencing any personnel web browser activity that use of an upper-case “G” will satisfy the trademark jitters of the legitimate owners of upper-case Google. Nevertheless, I would appreciate any single-word substitute for future reference that you could send my way - just in case.