EDUCATION & WRITING: The Need for Guidance in Writing Flash

So now the trend is short story, flash fiction anywhere from 140 characters to abide by twitter-fic, to as much as 1500 words or so, depending on whose definition of flash versus short story we’re using.

Love it. However…somebody back at the education level needs to explain exactly what flash is, and how it works. A short scenario without at least intimating at story is not a story; it’s a vignette. Story doesn’t have to be complete to work, but it does need a beginning and an ending that is either revealed by the author or, Barthes-style, left up to the reader to write.

Even at Fictionaut which is one of the largest communities of great writers I’ve seen online is beginning to get some crap that passes for story. Writers need to understand that a single exchange or interaction between two characters can be a profound narrative, or it can be a fantastically interesting moment that should have included a story in there somewhere. One of the most annoying questions directed by the professor of my Creative Writing classes has been, “What’s the story?” or “Is it a story?” I hated that but anticipated it in every CW and Contemporary Fiction class after a night’s reading. It was, I see now, the most vital part of all the words put together to form a narrative. Theme, imagery, tone, voice, arc, conflict, denouement, exposition, resolution, climax–all take second, etc. place to story when writing a story. If it’s a bit of time taken out of a character’s life and doesn’t have a story, stay home and write the next chapter. If it’s a feeling, maybe it should be a poem instead.

Meanwhile, the best way to learn is to learn from the great storytellers, the writers who have mastered the skill of brevity in story. You’ll know. You won’t be left scratching your head and wondering what you’ve just read.

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2 Responses to EDUCATION & WRITING: The Need for Guidance in Writing Flash

  1. steve says:

    “What’s the story” is one of the most difficult questions to answer, as you know. Then describe the arc, if possible. You’re right. Borges made a significant distinction between fictions (which may or may not be stories but are always imagined) and stories (which may be fictional or non-fictional). In either case,understanding the distinction depends in part on knowing episode or event from story.

  2. susan says:

    Ah, the good professor of the annoying question. You’re right here, I do tend to use “fiction” and “story” interchangeably when indeed your distinction better defines them. You also propose a good gauge of determining “story” in that much of what I’m reading lately are merely episodes or events–those points which make up story. Thank you once again.

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