Monday, March 7, 2011

Why Flash Fiction

When the Alinar Blog started to feature regular offerings of flash fiction, I started thinking about why I like writing – and reading – flash fiction.

But first maybe an explanation. Flash fiction is also called ‘microfiction’, ‘postcard fiction’ or ‘short short story.’ All of these names make it clear that the main attribute of flash fiction is its brevity. It usually is a few hundred words long, and rarely more than a thousand. Being so short, it can be tricky to write, because every word must have a purpose in painting a vivid scene, an emotion, or an encounter.

I like reading flash fiction for the same reason I like to indulge in a square of dark, rich chocolate: it satisfies a craving when I don’t have time to bake a cake, or read a novel. On the bus, while waiting in line somewhere, on my lunch break, whenever I have a few minutes, I enjoy jumping into another world and meet new characters, or rediscover familiar ones, for the time of a scene or ‘slice of life.’

As a writer, I enjoy writing flash fiction in two very different ways. On the one hand, I have trouble letting go of my characters. “But what happened after the end?” my muse often asks. “Did they really live Happily Ever After? How about checking on them, just to make sure?” And so check, I do, peeking into my characters’ lives on Valentine’s Day or for Halloween, checking how they celebrate, or how they live and love after the story is over. Flash fiction allows me to take that quick peek, share it with readers who might be wondering about the same thing, and move on.

On the other hand, flash fiction is something that helps me stretch my ‘writing muscles’ so to speak. When the dreaded writer’s block strikes, throwing new characters on a page without worrying about the word count can be just the thing to restart the engine. I sometimes ask for prompts from readers and my muse takes me toward new places and new characters. And at times, the whole ‘having trouble letting go’ kicks in again. My short story His Lover’s Fangs once was a flash fiction piece I later came back to and extended, and my current free monthly read, Losing His Wings, also was a flash fiction story whose characters nagged me until I decided to develop their world. I have no doubt that, eventually, I’ll write flash fiction about these stories, too, and complete the circle!

What about you? Do you read – or write – flash fiction? Maybe the format fits just right on your ride to work or school, or maybe it’s just too short to grip your interest? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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