I love the word “brevity.” It’s quick and sharp but still flows well. It sounds like someone had the guts to let out what they wanted to say. It’s also the word Scholastic’s Art and Writing contest uses to describe flash fiction, and I’d say that’s accurate.
Before I got into my fiction “groove,” I struggled with word count. Regardless of the grade level, fiction pieces were supposed to wrap up at around 1,300 words. Usually, I grumbled through the revision process—why do I have to cut so much out? I’m barely exploring my world or my characters. What a waste.
I was stuck in description. I didn’t have a complete grasp on descriptive implication, so I just focused on things I considered interesting. For example, several of my freshman pieces mentioned their protagonists’ eyes. Who cares whether they were “seafoam green” or “warm brandy?” Details like that helped visual their physicality more, but interrupted narrative flow. I think I can chalk this up to my hesitance to go deeper. Until very recently, I avoided exploring my inner fears and insecurities in writing. I was scared of opening still-fresh wounds, so I hid behind flowing, unimportant images. Even when I had my first lesson and portfolio in flash fiction, I still fell back on layered-but-shallow imagery.
It didn’t work well, at first. The limit was 1,000 words, and my first draft landed at 989. It was below, but it personally wasn’t enough. I wanted—at the very least—to tell something which I felt didn’t suffer under word count. The result was something I was proud of then, sophomore year, and still see the significance of now. To break my trend of unfocused description (and, conversely, protagonists unwillingly distant from the reader), I limited character interactions to just the protagonist and his forbidden boy band love (go ahead, laugh). This was a significant step for me because I usually had the central character of my pieces interact with everyone mentioned. This limitation emphasized the most immediate, important “relationship” in the story. I also cut out all description that wasn’t observed by the protagonist himself, to ensure that every image developed an aspect of the setting, the conflict, and his character. Ironically, his homoerotic conflict intertwined with insecurity about his boring brown eyes, compared to the colors he sees in his band mates’ own. At the very least, I explored aspects of my own insecurities. I applaud myself.
Then sophomore year ended. When I started writing fiction again—in junior year—I felt myself regressing. My images didn’t interrupt anything. In fact, they usually contributed to development. However, all my stories were “safe.” Once again, they lacked personal truth. I look back on them now, and they are well-crafted, but when I compare them to my recent works, I’m not as emotionally affected.
That’s why I love flash fiction now. The form still expects masterful handling of craft, but in a way that gets down to an intimate immediacy. As a senior, I’ve written strong pieces that all—unconsciously—fall under 1,000 words. It’s this trend that helped me realize just how important flash fiction is to me. It emphasizes a direct approach, but not one that’s blunt. There’s still plenty of room for descriptive implication and explorations of plot, character, and setting. The brevity is there, and lets me be myself in writing fiction.
A prompt, to help others grasp the importance of flash fiction:
Explore the inner tension of a character as they carry out a single, pivotal action relating to the conflict.
-Seth Gozar, Fiction Editor