GUEST BLOG BY THE MASTER OF FLASH, SAL BUTTACI!
My first encounter with the flash was in 1948 during the Golden Age of Comics when all us kids in Brooklyn, New York, read those super-hero comic books. My favorite was “The Flash” who dressed as the Greek/Roman god Mercury and, though he could not fly like Superman, he could run faster than the eye could see. We waited anxiously for the release of the next Flash comic so we could delight in our hero’s vanquishing still again his arch-enemy “The Shade.”
During that same time, Illustrated Classic Comics were also popular. My sisters and I collected them in a huge cardboard box until vacation time when we’d drag the box out of the closet and then dive into masterpiece literature. Years later a college professor of mine in an English Literature course marveled how I was able to discuss so many of the classics. He suspected I may have read so many of those thick tomes, and that amazed him, but the truth was much more believable: I read the comics! Of course, I didn’t share that flash bulletin with him.
Only in the past ten years have I come to learn about another kind of flash, one that applies to writing. Like the comic books that delivered in its few pages complete stories, flash fiction, sans illustrations, delivers quick stories too.
While the words “flash fiction” originated in 1992 with Flash Fiction, an anthology of short-short stories edited by Denise Thomas, James Thomas, and Tom Hazuka, the short-short story is not new at all to the literary scene. In fact, it’s been an art form that can be traced back thousands of years. Aesop’s fables were quick writes. So were the parables of Jesus. The Chinese writers of old called their very brief tales “minute fiction” because of the short time it took to read them. Other names included “the smoke-long story” because reading one took as long as smoking a cigarette; “the pocket-size story”; “the short-short story”; “sudden fiction”; “postcard fiction”; and a long list that most have replaced with the popular term “flash fiction.”
The flash is right up my alley. From the time I can remember, I’ve never been able to sit still. My mother used to say, “We need to tie you up with rope so you sit still!” I was always going somewhere, doing something, moving on to go someplace else, do something else. I’d sit and do my homework and squirm like the proverbial boy with ants in his pants. Sure, I loved to read, but only in small doses, something my wife Sharon finds strange. Sharon who can sit and read a novel in just a couple of days!
So it seemed a good idea, after years of writing short stories, to try my own hand at writing much shorter ones. I joined two computer sites. Six Sentences and Pen 10, and submitted work to each as often as I could. One requires a limit of six sentences to tell a story. The other limited the story to ten sentences. From there I joined Smith Magazine so I could tell stories in six words. Then I joined another called Thinking Ten. There was no stopping me! Finally, I wrote a collection of 164 of these short-short stories, called it Flashing My Shorts, and submitted it to All Things That Matter Press that published it in January 2010.
Flash fiction is short but how short? Not all writers agree. Just when the consensus appears to be “fiction between 300 and 1,000 words,” someone out there extends the maximum to as high as 2,000 and the minimum as brief as Ernest Hemingway’s famous story told in a mere six words, “For Sale--Baby Shoes, Never Worn.”
When it comes right down to it, there are no hard and fast rules about the number of words in a flash piece, That is usually decided upon by the editor or publisher to whom flash fiction is submitted. One needs to read the guidelines first. And there are types of quick fiction that must subscribe to an exact word count. I mentioned the six-worder, but there are also the 100-worder called the drabble, and the 50-worder understandably called the half-drabble. My short-short stories run the gamut of 50 words to 1,000, with most of the stories ranging between 250-400 words.
It makes sense that e-zines would favor a shorter fiction than was popular before the advent of computers. Sitting before a computer screen to read page after page of a short story is a literal eyesore. Add to that, it seems nowadays anyway, the general attention span in our society has fallen somewhat, making it harder and harder to keep readers hooked to a story. The longer they sit, the more those pesky ants bite, so it makes good sense to tell a story in the shortest amount of words.
But a flash story is still a story! It must satisfy the elements of a story. It must have at least one character (two is also good ), a setting, a problem to be solved by a protagonist and an antagonist to make the resolution a kind of tug-of-war struggle. Flash fiction does not have the luxury of descriptive expansion, drawn-out dialogue, more than absolutely needed exposition. But it must, like its short-story cousin, hook readers immediately, keep their eyes focused on each line, and at the conclusion release them completely satisfied a story has been told and resolved.
Writing flash fiction forces writers to revise their work, a writing step some writers ignore. They feel indebted to their first draft’s inspiration and won’t change a word. Flash fiction changes that mindset. It helps writers learn how to eliminate the unnecessary words, to tighten their writing so that, though short, their flashes can stand tall.
In my flashes I try to come up with a hook of a first sentence, one that jumps into the middle of the story’s action without back story or anything that will slow the story down.
I let action and dialogue reveal the characters’ motives and in the end I try to show some change in one or both of my main characters, usually for the better.
If you haven’t tried writing flash fiction, you might want to do a computer search on the subject and visit the different sites that offer hints in writing it and places where you can submit your work.
I had intended to keep this blog under 1,000 words, but then I said to myself, “This is a blog, duh! It’s not a flash story!”
One last thing: If you are looking to read some flash fiction, if you are like me, a reader who can’t sit still for long, who wants a story, whole and entire, in the space of no more than two pages, why not visit Amazon.com? There are plenty of books to choose from. I would recommend my own:
Flashing My Shorts at http://tinyurl.com/2bkms9w
which is also in Kindle edition at http://tinyurl.com/2clo8pq
I also recommend Flashes from the Other World by Julie Weinstein, soon to be released by All That Matters Press.