Image by Dawn Surratt
Several years ago, I became fascinated by the rise in flash fiction. These are short-short stories generally in the 500-1000 word range. (By contrast, an average short story is traditionally in the 2000-7000 word range.) Flash fiction is a mix of story, poetry, ad copy, and summary that, at its best, could hold a novel's worth of development and intrigue.
Now, the above lengths are only loose parameters, but a literary journal looking for flash fiction will give specific guidelines. I've seen collections featuring stories as short as 100 words. Whether something that short can truly be considered a complete story is a matter of debate, but I believe that pushing the boundaries of tradition is always a good thing.
There are several reasons behind the popularity of flash fiction. In a world of tweets and short attention spans, flash fiction offers readers bite-sized tales that demand just a few seconds of your time. There is also an immediacy to flash fiction that mirrors the go-go-go mindset of today's culture. Social media pares life down to selfies and memes and 140-character opinions, so flash fiction is literature that gets to the point with very little time/patience/room for detailed descriptions or drawn-out dialogue. Since it's so short, flash fiction must act like a gut-punch rather than a slow burn. In a world full of distractions and choices, flash fiction has to scream loudly to get a reader's attention. (This battle for our attention reminds me of the ever-shorter TV ads, some of which are only a few seconds long -- because, you know, the standard thirty seconds feels like an eternity these days.)
I took an online class to learn more about constructing a short-short story. I thought it would be a good way to work on my growing backlog of story ideas. The work, however, turned out to be more difficult than I anticipated. Like writing poetry, the author of a flash fiction piece has to consider the economy of words. Every single one has to matter. Therefore, editing these short-short pieces becomes a violent process of slashing and chopping words that don't hold their weight. I'm not exaggerating: the process felt brutal and frenzied. Editing flash fiction takes no less time than editing a standard-length story.
One of the stories I wrote for that class was originally titled "The Birthday Present." With a lot of help from my writer friends, I cut and re-built the piece several times, eventually changing the title to "Weightless" and submitting to literary journals. The story was accepted by r.kv.r.y Quarterly. It was later nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
I'm grateful to the editors for the opportunity to add my small work to the big conversation. The full story (~1000 words) follows, and can also be seen at r.kv.r.y Quarterly