Over the last couple of weeks I have been working on several flash fiction* pieces. These pieces which are all related and will be in a collection at some point are 750- words in length – about a page and a half. I have concluded that this word count is my perfect flash fiction length.
The flash fiction form brings many craft demands which are helpful for the developing fiction writer. Limiting yourself like this forces an economy of words that results in precise descriptions and transitions that must come from a character’s point of view.
Without this limitation you might allow a description to run on for three or four lines (50 or 75 words). You might even invite the reader to get lost in it. But here you must choose carefully what the reader will see, giving them the precise visual that will allow them to build the world you’ve left off-screen.
I have found that writing an omniscient third-person narrative overwhelms the form. These pieces are most successful when written from a character’s point of view, where the observations are by nature limited and intimate. Intimacy is a key to the form. It is not the place for grand, sweeping epics. I have in the past referred to flash fiction as prose photography (where the novel might be thought of as a feature film).
Each word is chosen for the weight it will carry, for its sensory value. Indeed, as I am putting the final touches on a piece I must look and see if I’ve hit the word count. And then I must go line by line through the piece strategically adding or removing words in the right places, careful not to over-write or weaken the delicate lattice of the story. It is a type of construction that reminds me of the work of poetry.
Investigate this form. Give it a shot. It has a great deal to offer you.
*Flash Fiction is a short, short-story form, a complete story that with a count of 2,000 words or less. Often much less. Perhaps the most famous flash fiction ever written is attributed to Ernest Hemingway: For sale: baby shoes, never worn. http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/03/short-and-sweet-reading-and-writing-flash-fiction/?_r=0