This is a reaction most readers have when first encountering flash fiction. It’s one I always used to have, and one I still get after reading certain pieces (internally, of course–outwardly I nod with a look of stoic recognition). And it’s especially frustrating when this reaction is brought out by well-known writers. Most recently this happened to me with renowned flash fiction writer and prose poet, Kim Chinquee.
Allow me to explain:
Last summer was my first foray into the world of flash. I was initially drawn to the subject by a publication called NANO Fiction that specializes in…well, really really really short fiction. A college professor of mine had just written a series of essays for NANO’s site and I saw that they were holding their annual NANO Prize contest for fiction less than 300 words.
300 words? That’s it. Hell, I can do that.
Such thinking was my downfall. While what I submitted wasn’t the worst stuff I’d ever written, it wasn’t anything worth publishing, and it certainly wasn’t worthy of placing. So this year, as soon as I got that ‘Contest Open’ email, I began writing as many pieces as I could, tossing away the bad ones and endlessly reworking ones that seemed great–sometimes even tossing those.
However, the biggest improvement I’ve made this year has been studying the work of this year’s judge, Kim Chinquee. Her newest collection, Oh Baby, takes incredible leaps between sentences, sporting content that appears so minuscule and private. Themes pop up and the collection forms itself into a long, patchwork story of sorts. From early teenage girls wandering malls to
war nurses wandering about Europe, she takes minute moments and expands them with great ease. Regardless, there were still times I would read her work and wonder, what the hell just happened?!
It was hard to know what I should take away from her writing, what I needed to borrow in order to make my work stand out. I was overwhelmed with this question, and so I gave it up. I kept writing, occasionally glancing back through her work, but largely sticking to my style. Eventually, though, I saw a shift in my flash. It took bigger leaps, growing quicker and more biting, ambiguous and yet still full of direction. Somehow, her style was creeping in on mine.
When I think of what has changed for me, I can’t help but wonder if I simply let go of my overly critical eye and took what she wrote at face value. And after going back and rereading what Becca wrote in her last post, I think there’s a huge benefit in not cramming symbolism in every chance I get, especially with work this short. Sometimes people paint some pretty neat stuff when they aren’t always trying to make the Sistine Chapel.
My challenge is this: Write some fiction that is 300 words or less. Write as much of it as you can stand and then try to write some more. Rewrite it, morph it, shuffle it around. Make it beautiful, make it horrifying, but most importantly, make it your own.