If you’ve ever read an article about how to write effective web content, you’re bound to have come across the term skimming and how dreadfully important it is for your articles to be skim friendly. Apparently most people, even geeks locked away in their noxious bedrooms for days on end, don’t have time to read online articles all the way through. Instead they skim over the text, pausing to read only headings and the occasional excerpt. They’re like adolescent boys in the pre-Internet porn era, flicking feverishly through the pages of Playboy to get to the soft-focus shots of young ladies baring their airbrushed personalities. Who gives a spittoon about all that boring filler stuff?
According to web content experts, who are right up there with beer coaster experts, paragraphs longer than one or two lines, like *gulp* the previous one, are as welcome a sight to readers—excuse me, skimmers—as fire ants in their undies. They don’t want to work up a sweat hacking their way through dense jungles of prose. They want to tumble effortlessly down a series of short waterfalls.
Flash Fiction: The True Truncated Story
Flash fiction was born out of this raging need, be it real or Marilyn Manson, to get to the end of an article/story in a big hurry. Text messages and Tweets, where so much is written in letters that have fled the words to which they once belonged, helped precipitate its genesis.
For those who don’t know, flash fiction is short stories, really, really short stories, written in 1000 words or less. If you blinked, you’d miss them. If you didn’t blink, you’d probably still miss them. The term flash fiction was popularized by an anthology of flash fiction published in the early ’90s, but flash fiction itself didn’t become popular until fairly recently, doubtless a lot more popular with the people who write it than the people who read it. Flash fiction also goes by the names of micro fiction and sudden fiction, but I prefer to use the all-inclusive term of crap fiction.
I’d never heard about flash fiction until I read about it on a freelance writing blog several months back. The blog was promoting a dedicated flash fiction website that was offering $35 for every published story. It seemed to me like a pretty easy way to make some money, provided I could write a story as if a mafia hitman were holding a gun to my head and barking at me to hurry the hanky panky up. So I submitted the TV Guide version of a short story that had been loitering in my head awhile.
It was blithely rejected by one of the site’s quality control inspectors.
Why My Flash Fiction Sucks
The piece was destined for the recycle bin from the very start because I had about as much enthusiasm for it as I have for slowmoing footage of a lawn bowling competition. To me, trying to cram a story into 1000 words or less is like trying to view the Grand Canyon through a microscope. The tiny window you’re given just isn’t big enough to present the whole picture.
With flash fiction, proper story and character development are forced to stand aside for a fleeting snapshot of a much larger narrative. Even the better examples of this dwarfish literary sub-genre make you come away from them, asking, “Is that all?”
Every story, if well-constructed and written compellingly, will dictate its own word count. Stories come in all different lengths. There are long stories and there are short stories, and then there are dancing Munchkins. That’s what I liken flash fiction to: dancing Munchkins, stories that are too diminutive to be seen as anything other than a novelty act.
I worry that like reality TV shows about cooking (I forgot to add the sea salt! Dear God, help me!) flash fiction is here to stay, not because it’s an exciting new vehicle for aspiring writers to display their word-arranging skills, but because we’re living in a creeping idiocracy where, as people grow more and more stupid from an increasing dependence on bite-sized and often borderline illiterate information, flash fiction will become the norm rather than the exception.
Is there a place for flash fiction?
Yes. In the cold, damp soil beneath a serial killer’s basement floor, next to all the human remains.
In closing, I’d like to point out that this article weighs in at 791 words. Does that make it flash non-fiction?