The Joy of Flash
by Vaughn Treude
Flash has nothing to do with exhibitionism, the Adobe browser plugin, or the superhero who runs really fast; it’s the niche category of very short fiction. Flash fiction is defined as stories of 1,000 words or less, which in typical prose equals approximately three pages. Flash is something I’ve only recently attempted because, like George R. R. Martin, my work tends to be long, way too long. Trying your hand at flash is, however, a helpful exercise for any writer. It can also open up new possibilities for publication, and with it, publicity for one’s longer works.
Very short fiction is not a new thing. It’s been featured in periodicals for many years, particularly in women’s magazines. In today’s world of electronic devices and short attention spans, flash fiction seems like a good way to attract new readers. Sampling a 1,000-word story doesn’t require much of a commitment.
Creating flash-length works helps the writer to focus. A flash story can have only one message, and you must define it succinctly. Only words that serve this purpose are allowed; everything else must be purged. Even so, I typically end up writing around 2,000 words or more to start. Getting it down to 1,000 (occasionally the limit is a bit higher) requires a painstaking editing process. In terms of time spent per word, my flash stories are the most “expensive” writing I’ve done.
Since I’m by no means an expert on this topic, I did some research online. I found an interesting article on the Guardian’s website about the art of creating flash fiction, by writer David Gaffney. His six tips include “don’t use too many characters” (I try to stick to two, sometimes three) and “write long, then go short,” which I’ve already addressed. Other advice, such as “start in the middle of the story rather than the beginning” is suggested to fiction writers of all sorts. There’s a common tendency for novice writers to do WAY too much explaining and back story, which can discourage readers before they even get started. Flash is a good way to break that habit.
My fellow sci-fi writer George Donnelly has edited and published a number of flash fiction collections, and I’ve contributed to a handful of them. The first, Valiant, He Endured: 17 Sci-Fi Myths of Insolent Grit, has a political focus. My contribution, “Ghost Writer,” is about a man who discovers the sinister purpose behind popular conspiracy theories. The second is Christmas in Love: A Flash Fiction Anthology. For this, I wrote “Happy Diversidays,” a satire in which a space traveler returning to Earth discovers that his choice of Christmas celebration must be approved in order to ensure yuletide diversity. Number three is coming soon. Tentatively titled Steaks, Walls, and Dossiers: The Best Trump Anthology Ever, it features tales about our recently inaugurated 45th President. No, it’s not partisan, and judging by the cover art, I assume that most entries are, like my own, spoofs of some sort.
You can check out the aforementioned flash anthologies by heading to Amazon and searching for “George Donnelly” under books. The Trump anthology will, I hope, be available very soon.
Vaughn Treude grew up on a farm in North Dakota. The remoteness of his home, with few children nearby, made science fiction a welcome escape. After many years in software, he realized that the discipline of engineering could be applied to writing fiction. Check out his works at vaughntreude.com.