It’s the writing world’s distorted way of saying “You can be good at something without really trying.”
That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.
Dear Writing All Wrong,
What’s the best approach to writing flash fiction?
—Gemma Rosedale, Glastonbury, CT.
(Note: Flash fiction is a short tale, often a complete story confined to 50-100 words.)
The best approach? Don’t approach it.
*cue a chorus of boos from writers who don’t want to lose what little relevance they have*
What? Whaaaat? People, writers, this is something you don’t want to hear. But you need to hear it. Flash fiction, in and of itself, isn’t a bad thing. I like writing. So should you. It can be good practice, a quick sharpening of the penning knives, cleavers, sabers.
But flash fiction has become useless, deceptive, vapid, shallow, and counterproductive. *cue more boos, closing of blog* Still here? Good. You need this. Here’s why:
1. Flash fiction makes it too easy.
Many (all) will argue: “But it’s supposed to be easy! That way, everyone can do it! You’re such a jerk.” And that’s the point: if everyone is “special,” then no one is. Setting the entry bar that much lower only fools “writers” into thinking the craft is much easier than it is. And any writer worth his salt licks will attest that it’s not easy.
2. Flash fiction is too much effort for a low yield.
Unless you’re writing (and selling) a flash fiction collection (which you aren’t), then it’s worth your lasting effort to write poetry, haiku, or spend more time on a short story. Or a long story. Or an idea. One that will lead to poetry, short stories, long stories.
3: Flash fiction devalues art, overvalues community.
Because everyone wants something read by someone. When I read clusters of flash fiction, I hear only cries of “I am relevant too! I’m throwing my dusty, frayed hat in the ring! Hey everyone, look at how compact and clever I can be! Look how original I am! This is where I’m making my name, because this is easy! I CAN WRITE TOO!”
4: Flash fiction is eating a “thrown bone.”
Famous bloggers, for their coliseum amusement, throw out bones of “flash fiction contests.” Huddled masses want in. They gnaw that bone, and they’re happy. They present their crusty, dimly glinting wares, praying for the passing blessing of a glance from the Emperor Writer of the Blog. Some may be graced with a comment. This is the highest praise. The next mass of masses find themselves strung on the same drug. The cycle continues perpetual.
5: Flash fiction overtrains for a under-needed skill.
So you can encapsulate a fiction in under a hundred words? That’s great! Now let’s move on to something beefier. The big boy weights are over here. No, you want to keep doing isolation curls with five-pound jogging dumbbells? Why? Because you like them? Well, yes, they can be part of the writer’s workout, but—oh, ok, have it your way then. You get really good at those then. I’ll be working on a cinquain.
6: Flash fiction isn’t a gateway drug; it’s a gated community. And it’s lousy.
Because flash fiction stresses the encapsulated form, you’ve a complete work that doesn’t provide the satisfaction of development. Your goal is squishing juicy things into a box and being all proud of that. “Yes! I smushed it good! I like this smushing writing! I want MOAR SMUSH NAO!”
7: Flash fiction will never make you lick your wounds.
February is FlaFiWriMo. And everybody wins. Except writing. You’ll never walk away from FlaFiWriMo feeling like you need to improve, need to step up your game. Nope. With NaNoWriMo? It pummels the weak, grinds them to powder, sizzling their puny innards over the skillet of spite until golden brown. That’s worthy of your time. FlaFiWriMo’s winners are losers.
8: Flash fiction feeds and sustains the lazy.
Ah, the argument of “If it’s short enough, people will read it.” Cool story, bro. If you want an audience of a five-second attention span, then you’re—hey, are Tropical Fruit Skittles® making a comeback? I love those things!
9: Flash fiction too often discourages variety of form, diversity of writing.
I’m a man of simplicity. When I buy a bag of Variety Chex Mix®, I demand variety. Writers should demand this from themselves. If you’re an accomplished writer, you’re likely not noodling in flash fiction and nothing but flash fiction. Don’t be that one bag of “Rye Crisps Only” Chex Mix®. If you’re flashing fiction, diversify that Chex Mix® portfolio. Don’t flood it down with penny stocks and ignore the long-term bonds, cash, and illicit drugs.
10: Flash fiction keeps the poor writers poor.
Because it does.
Are you a defender of flash fiction merits or a defeater of its heresies? Do tell.
Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong). He writes flash fiction about flashbulbs.