I first got into flash fiction because I was jealous of the poets reading at open mics. Poets would use their 5 minutes to fluidly saunter up to the mic, announce “This poem is called ‘Title,’” lay down their words with a searing swiftness, and be done with it.
Fiction writers, meanwhile, would spend half of their time explaining that they would be reading an excerpt from their novel and who the characters were and all the other background information the audience needed to know before they read a disembodied snippet. I wanted to be able to tell a story in that compressed time, to get in and out like a tactical strike.
2020 has been a lot like that. While some people keep reminding writers that Shakespeare wrote King Lear during the plague, the rest of us have been scrambling to work from home, to supervise our kids’ online learning, and re-juggle our social calendars to factor in Zoom or 6 feet of distance. While I admire anyone who’s been able to churn out a novel, for me, the only time I have to read or write has been grabbed in snippets.
That’s the beauty of flash fiction, a miniature in perfect detail. It’s not just a single well-turned scene, or the same as a short story like a “small boulder the size of a large boulder.” It’s its own creature, somehow needing to do the heavy lifting of character, plot, and theme in a tiny amount of time. Kind of like a writer, needing to squeeze the juice of every minute they get to write.
I’ve spent the year scribbling tiny stories, the smallest 50 words and the longest approaching 1500. Some are very traditional, some are second-person (easier to sustain in a small space), some are hermit crab (adopting another form like a list or a recipe).
What all of them have in common is that they’re able to fit into the smallest spaces of my life, and have kept me writing throughout this terrible year. It’s not that writing flash is “faster” or “easier,” but the size limit makes it more manageable. Like giving a cat a bath doesn’t mean that you won’t not get scratched, but hey, at least it’s not a tiger.
If you’re pressed for time and looking to work in smaller forms, then maybe give flash a try.
Where to get started? Well, first, like all writing it’s important to read, read, read, read. Check out anthologies like Best Small Fictions or Best Microfiction, or if creative nonfiction is more your speed, try The Best of Brevity. There are numerous lit mags that focus on flash or dedicate a section to it, like in this great list of magazines sorted by length.
But mostly, don’t beat yourself up because you haven’t cranked out a novel this year. While a sprawling fantasy or memoir might be nice, there’s also beauty to appreciate in the little things. Trying to craft a tiny, intricate miniature might be just the thing to make you appreciate the power of words again, and make the most of your minutes.