During one of the “Form & Theory of Fiction” classes I took while doing my MFA, the incredibly gifted Lucinda Roy had us read SUDDEN FICTION INTERNATIONAL, a flash collection edited by Robert Shapard & James Thomas. Mid-way through reading it, I experienced a sudden sense of dissatisfaction. Individually, the stories were remarkable. Yet taken together as a forced feeding, I began to wonder whether some might work better as sections within larger works.
At the time, I was experiencing a crisis of vision. The previous semester, the stories I wrote were all 30+ pages, but in that particular semester I has difficulty extending anything for more than a few pages. False starts were my specialty. I’d write what I thought were wonderfully satisfying opening sections but then not be able to “see” what the next logical step in the story might be.
Who knows? Maybe I was depressed.
The previous semester, in a workshop also taught by Roy, we read David Guterson’s SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS. One of our discussions focused on how a miniscule section of the novel (when Hatsue and Ishmael meet in the hollow of a cedar tree) could have been a brilliant piece of flash fiction.
[Now that I think of it, the section where the girls are hiking through the forest in ZZ Packer’s “Brownies” could also work as flash fiction.]
Along with psychologically destroying lovers and wives, Ernest Hemingway is famous for positing the earliest known example of proto-twitter fiction: “For Sale: Baby Shoes, never worn.”
As ripe with possibilities as Hemingway’s “story” might be, I just don’t find it satisfying. At best, it’s a scenario… and as Flannery O’Connor implies, scenario ≠ story.
I’ve been thinking about this today because yesterday a friend, Aubrey Hirsch, expressed that she can’t get a handle on writing stories that are less than 250 words. And I feel her pain. Micro fiction has become extremely popular. Over the summer, I was asked to write a 50-word story; try as I did, I just couldn’t do it.
Recently, I came across two examples of micro-fiction that I thought were stellar:
1) Len Kuntz’s “Lost” (check about halfway down the page)
2) Roxane Gay’s “The Anatomy of a Good Woman”
Reading these makes me very confident that I’ll never be able to produce anything as exceptional with so few words. But there’s also part of me that, as a reader, wishes the stories would extend for 10 or 20 pages. I want to be lost in a fictional world, rather than pass through one so quickly that I hardly realized I’ve traveled.
So. What are you feelings about flash? Or micro? Constricted spaces used to be the strict domain of poets. Can fiction writers equipped to plough those fields?