|Why I Write Flash Fiction
Posted: 16 Dec 2013 01:00 AM PST
by Gay Degani
Jim Harrington, who is doing a bang-up job here at FFC, invited me to answer his question, “Why do you write flash fiction?” Here are three big reasons.
1. Malcolm Gladwell
Not him, but his 10,000 hours. Maybe not his 10,000 hours (according to Wikipedia they belong to Dr. K. Anders Ericsson); however, it was from Gladwell’s book Outliers that I first heard about the idea that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at complicated skills such as playing the piano or programming a computer or—what I’m interested in—writing something good.
Of course, 10,000 hours is 10,000 hours whether you spend time on a novel, novella, short story, or flash, but by definition, practice is repetition. So if someone’s goal is to “write something good,” which of the above formats allows a writer to draft a story, rewrite it, workshop it, revise it, let it simmer, rework it, revise it again, ask three friends for more comments, edit it one more time, proof-read it, and send it off to ten of your most desired publishers, all in the course of one or two weeks? Flash fiction.
2. It’s Trite, but Writers Write
If a writer practices over and over again by putting together 300, 700, 1000 and 1500-word stories, he will repeat the writing process over and over in short amounts of time. The day-to-day act of creating allows writers to become immersed in the work and immersion brings a kind of “muscle memory” to the act.
A writer of flash must constantly craft new characters, set scenes, find precise, evocative language, and nudge out meaning. A writer of flash comes quickly to the need for originality and surprise in story-telling, that characters must be individuals with different problems, different fears, different coping mechanisms, and that incorporating lines or phrases about time and place will anchor a piece, yet must be deftly done. And these are the obvious elements.
Only through practice can a writer understand that beautiful words must, in the end, mean something. Not necessarily a big something, but a spark of insight into another person, a moment of self-awareness, the reinforcement of a universal truth. Good stories contain meaning because style, diction, imagery, symbolism, allusions, and tone are seamlessly woven into the text.
Flash fiction not only allows a writer to practice literary elements, but it demands that she use them, and the stories demand it because they are short. Every word counts in flash and every word that brings more than one meaning to a sentence, a paragraph, or a whole work, is a word that must be sought after and found. Writing flash engenders an appreciate of the power and nuance of language, and prepares the writer to take on a variety of challenges that stretch skills and deepen the work.
3. Perfect Diamonds
Which is more beautiful, a solitary diamond flashing in the sun or a diamond necklace designed so that each stone sparkles in harmony with the others? There is no real answer. It all depends on the quality of the carbon, the cut of the stone, the presentation. And it’s about preference too. One person might choose a solitaire over a necklace, a stickpin over a brooch, or decide to snatch the whole treasure. Another might desire only one, and then crave and seek the other. It’s up to the individual.
When it came to writing–and I’ve been writing a long time–I couldn’t always see my way through the different rules, guidelines, trends, nuances, techniques, and hazy mythological clouds that surrounded what I called the “glass mountain.” I could see inside, what others managed to achieve. I could climb all around it, but I could never suss out exactly how to get inside. I realize now it’s like walking into Tiffany’s and having someone tell you can look at the diamonds, but you can’t touch and you certainly can’t buy.
In diamonds and in writing, it’s about figuring out what works. I’m sure I’ve spent 10,000 + hours writing all kinds of stories, long and short, with a good amount of flailing in the dark, and though I make no claim to expertise, it is through flash fiction, I have finally gained enough confidence and skill to push on. Everyone is a beginner, but how long a writer stays a beginner is up to the writer. Pick a strategy. My strategy was flash fiction.
In an article that touts how practice brings expertise, I am a little embarrassed about this analogy. I could use “flowers,” I suppose, how a single amaryllis in afternoon light can speed the heart and how sometimes walking in a desert of poppies, thousands of them dusty green and orange, can do the same thing. But I like the reference I chose because good writing is as beautiful and precious as diamonds.
Gay Degani has published on-line and in print including a chapbook, Pomegranate Stories. Every Day Publishing is releasing her novel, What Came Before this winter, serialized on-line and in print. She is an editor at Smokelong Quarterly and founder and editor emeritus at Flash Fiction Chronicles. She blogs at Words in Placewhere a list of her stories can be found.