My first novel was a monstrosity in terms of word count and sheer overkill. I have always been a wordy person. When I was in grade school, I preferred writing notes rather than talking to my friends. Early in life, I preferred guy friends to girl friends, because I felt like they talked too much. When I hung out with my guy friends, we might sit for hours and not say much, and that suited me just fine.
In writing my thoughts, I could take my time and put down in words what I didn’t have the courage or poise to say in the moment. You know—I’m that person who doesn’t have that clever, pithy insult on the ready when someone offends me. And joke punch-lines? Forget it—couldn’t deliver one to save my life.
Even when I met the man who is now my husband, he will tell you, I shared my feelings about him in a letter. Letter writing is a lost art—one which I might tackle in a blog post eventually—but I digress. In this post I want to tell you about my second love: Flash Fiction.
When I re-joined Zoetrope.com, I did so to write short stories again. I had done this in the past and been mildly successful at it. Well, if you call one publication mildly successful. When I was sixteen, I wrote a short story for a teen magazine. It was a romance—full of angst and unrequited love—girl has crush on star basketball player at her school, and yada, yada, yada.
The editor of the mag loved it and paid me a whopping $75 for my story. You would have thought I might have ridden on the crest of that success and gone on to write multiple published stories, but noooo. I sent in other stories to other magazines, but eventually the sting of rejection crushed my young impressionable heart.
I went on to develop a serious crush on a gorgeous college man when I was seventeen and a green- around-the-gills freshman away from home without my family for the first time. I wrote an epic ton of bad poetry all centered on him, and published a few of my non-college-man centric poems in my College Magazine.
I loved the payoff of writing poetry, and I remember wishing even then, you could write a story that short. Flash forward through my childbearing years to the recent past. While piddling around on Zoetrope, I discovered there was a whole new genre of short-short stories called Flash Fiction.
These are stories with a beginning, middle, and end that are less than one thousand words. Many journals and magazines define their own lengths for Flash Fiction. Some want it to be less than 750 words, others, 500 words. Still others like extreme brevity: 100, 75, and 25. Heck, there’s even one lit mag that asks for six word stories. Yeah, six; and this feat is much harder than you would imagine.
The most memorable six-word story I’ve ever read is this Hemingway gem:
For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn. —Ernest Hemingway
Beginning, middle, end—we know from this that a mother has lost a child, either to miscarriage, stillbirth or some similar tragedy. The beginning presents the “for sale” sign, the middle describes the item, and the end describes their condition. As a mother who’s lost a child to stillbirth, this story resonates with me.
Of course, I have not written any Flash Fiction that is such sheer genius. I stay within the 250-1000 word range. I’m too wordy otherwise.
I took to writing Flash Fiction because I liked the immediate payoff of having a fully realized story without agonizing for weeks, months, maybe even years to write a novel. I also wanted to be able to rack up some more publishing credits, but the most important reason I began writing Flash Fiction was to learn the art of brevity—to be able to say a lot in fewer words. I did it to learn how to tighten and edit my own fiction before I place it into the hands of pre-readers and reviewer friends who will give it a more thorough once-over. Flash Fiction has done all this for me and more. That is why, next to my novels, it is my second love.