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November 1, 2010

If the wide-open spaces of a novel frighten you, you’re not alone. All that plotting and outlining, the creation of all those characters, not to mention the stringing together of tens of thousands of words can seem daunting to even the bravest writer among us. Given that this blog is called “Birth of a Novel”, I’m guessing that most readers at least dream of writing a novel. But an interesting prelude to that massive project—or a break from it—could be the creation of something called Flash Fiction.

Also known as sudden fiction, postcard fiction, short short, or microfiction, it’s a genre that dates to Aesop’s Fables. Counted among its practitioners are Ernest Hemingway, Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Anton Chekhov, O. Henry, and Franz Kafka. Not bad company to keep. So how short is this short fiction? Sometimes as few as 300 words with the outer limit pretty generally accepted as 1,000 words. Of course, some short shorts are way shorter.

You may have heard of the very short-short, supposedly penned by Ernest Hemingway: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Pretty much says it all, doesn’t it? In general, Flash Fiction should have the same elements as traditional fiction: a plot, a protagonist, conflict, and resolution. It’s just that some of those elements are not as fully developed as in a “normal” short story. But then, just as in romance, it’s the hinting at or implied meaning that can intrigue.

What got me thinking about short fiction? A recent grad student presentation on the topic in one of my college classes, as well as the National Public Radio contest called Three-Minute Fiction in which stories need to take just three minutes to read aloud. In the most recent contest, writers were asked to begin with the words, “Some people swore that the house was haunted,” and end with the line, “Nothing was ever the same again after that.” It’s a pretty tempting challenge — in fact one that I believe most writing students would rally at. Check out NPR’s website for some intriguing samples. The contest winner will be announced after November 30th.

Not surprisingly, writing short can be even more difficult than writing on and on, endlessly. But the key here is that it’s a different challenge and by definition that means a challenge than can boost a writer’s creativity. If you feel stalled by your current writing project, trying your hand at Flash Fiction could be a welcome reprieve. A quick Internet search proves how marketable such efforts can be. In any event, from a creative perspective, it’s certainly worth a try.

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 12, 2010 5:00 PM

    I loved your piece. I always write short as that’s my thing. It is daunting for me to think long. What I want to say is pithy,
    Your piece cleverly states that saying something in a flash can provide a respite or forthrightness to a writer.
    Your writing, long or short, is always good. Keep writing.

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