Flash Fiction. Many use it as a writing exercise or warm up before moving onto bigger and more ‘serious’, i.e. longer, writing. But could this creative equivalent of heel digs and knee lifts actually be one of the most interesting platforms to express creativity?
One of the most prominent legends of the 20th century writing goes like this:
Some foolish writers take a bet with Ernest Hemingway for $10 each, (the equivalent of which today would be almost $500) that he cannot write an entire story in just six words. Hemingway, being Hemingway, immediately jots three tiny sentences onto this napkin, passes it around to his astonished associates and collects the entire winnings pot.
The famous six word story:
For Sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.
What is it about these three sentences that makes the reader entirely satisfied that it is complete? It has a beginning, middle and end; involves a range of emotions; implies desperation, lost hope, unimaginable sadness and loss, all in six short words. It is stories like this that leaves me unconvinced that flash fiction is just a gateway to ‘better’ writing. There is an air of mystery about flash fiction that can sometimes get lost within longer stories. When you only have 10 words, or one line in order to tell a tale, there cannot be any room for filler.
One of the best flash fiction sites I’ve come across was completely by chance while messing around on the Internet years ago. The website OneSentence.org says it best itself:
Most of the best stories that we tell from our lives have one really, really good part that make the rest of the boring story worth it.
This is about that one line.’
It offers true stories written by the public in just one sentence. One of the only conditions is that no fiction is allowed; all stories must be true. It is this concept, that as you are scrolling down the page, you are reading little postcard sized windows into people’s souls that makes the site so interesting and at times, so chilling. The only context given are the use of tags, the most popular include: childhood, love and humour, but also shame, break up, religion.
Some of my favourites:
Instead of him they sent back a folded flag, and when I was alone I tore it to pieces.
His efforts were so valiant; I didn’t have the heart to tell him it was front clasp.
I married my husband on our first date, but it has taken me more than 5 years to decide what colour to paint our dining room.
I stayed with her every minute while she was unconscious, but the very second she came to all she wanted to know was if the bastard who put her in the CCU was coming to visit her.
My therapist thinks I should become a therapist.
When English teachers go bad
I used to demand a new world order in flawless iambic pentameter, but now I’d settle for one in sixteen-syllable haiku.
One in many
The poor janitor was only trying to do his job, and it was never supposed to include being threatened to be ripped limb from limb by grieving teenagers.
It’s going to be hard telling my ex-mother-in-law that she is now going to be my sister-in-law.
My grandmother called me the other day asking if I wanted any weed, because the man across the hall is selling it and she thought it was an excellent deal.
My mom thought I was pregnant when I sat down to talk with her, then gave a sigh of relief when I told her I’m gay.
There are plenty of different types of flash fiction, and plenty of ways to interpret them. One thing is clear though, as a reader and a writer, they are addictive. Flash fiction opens up a whole new level of writing, and it is surprising how much you can get out of just a few words. It’s clear from sites like OneSentence.org that this type of writing is not just a way to psyche yourself up into writing something ‘proper’, and that these little sentences can have a bigger impact on a reader than whole novels. In fact, this whole piece of writing can be re written in just one sentence: ‘One day, like Hemingway, one line might pay for your bar tab.’