I probably should not take it upon myself to write a piece about flash fiction, since I’ve just broken into it in the last couple of years, but what the heck?
Flash fiction is difficult because it’s between 300 and 1000 words (depending on whose definition you’re using), but it needs to tell a story in its own right. But of course, you can’t just tell a story in 300-1000 words and call it flash fiction – that would go against the oft-repeated “show, don’t tell” rule.
And flash fiction has to contain the intensity of a novel in the space of a few paragraphs, hence the title of this post: A white dwarf is a star with the mass of our sun contained in a celestial body the size of the earth. (For those of you who don’t understand what a big deal this is, 1.3 million earths could fit inside the sun.) It’s so dense that a teaspoon-full of white dwarf material would weigh several tons on earth. When I was thinking about this post the other day, I thought about how flash fiction would be considered extremely dense in astronomy terms – but in literary terms, of course, you never want your piece to be called “dense.”
So I decided to use the metaphor of the white dwarf instead. In case you were wondering.
So, back to flash fiction.
The best definition I’ve found for flash fiction is a story told through a single important moment. I don’t remember where I heard this definition, but I think it’s a good one. A couple examples that I think are awesome:
- “Mr. Sandman,” by our very own Jasmine. We see the MC sitting in her window, pondering about the sleeping-pill salesman who sold her some pills that kill her each night. Of course, this could be a novel, but it’s written as a very short piece that both ends in a satisfying, spine-chilling way and leaves you wanting more.
- “Train Man,” by Ruth on youngwriterssociety.com. This may be the most – I mean, I really just want to say “the best piece of literature I’ve ever read,” and this is just a girl on YWS who, as far as I know, is not yet published. Anyway, the story is told from the first-person POV of a train passenger in Great Britain, who realizes that the polite man, the affectionate father, sitting across from him is a suicide bomber. It’s the most mind-blowing moment of any story I have ever read, when the train pulls away and the narrator, looking back out the window, sees the man open his jacket in the train station to reveal a bomb strapped to his chest. And this piece is only 199 words. WOW.
Basically, my plan of attack for flash fiction is: Pick a single moment or event, dramatize the most important part of it, and end it with a whammy. If I may be permitted to use yet another metaphor, a flash fiction piece is the epigram of prose. (For those of you who don’t know what an epigram is, read this.)
Try it out. Write something under a thousand words, then work your way down – under five hundred, under three hundred, perhaps even under one hundred. See what you can come up with. Even if you don’t write a piece of flash fiction that you feel you can be proud of, flash fiction writing can help slim down your other works and make them more succinct.
If you have an account with Young Writers Society, you can read “Train Man” here.