Faulkner’s fresh look at flash fiction
Everyone has his or her idea of what constitutes flash fiction. I’ve noted this before. Defining flash fiction by word length seems the easy way to do it. Problem is, few editors and writers can agree on the various labels to attach to say, 100-word stories, 1,000-word stories or even 25-word stories.
Flash fiction, however, is more than numbers and no one has explained that better than Grant Faulkner, editor of “100 word story,” in a recent New York Times op-ed piece. Talking about his introduction to the miniature genre, Faulker says, “Most of my writing life has been a training ground of ‘more,’ so I rarely conceived of less.” But when a friend of his suggested he try a 100-story, he was at first exasperated. “At best, I could chisel a story down to 150 words,” he writes, “but I was frustrated by the gobs of material I left out.”
This frustration led Faulkner to examine his writing habits and eventually he discovered “a different kind of storytelling.” The balance of his article beautifully describes flash fiction in qualitative and rather than quantitative terms and, perhaps without intending to, makes the case that flash should be an integral part of a comprehensive literary education.
“Flash allows literature to be a part of our everyday life,” he writes, “even if we are strange multitasking creatures addled by a world that demands more, more, more.”
The New York Times used Faulkner’s article as the basis for a language arts lesson plan on flash fiction, part of its Learning Network. The lesson plan references a relatively recent book edited by Robert Swartwood, “Hint Fiction: An Anthology of Stories in 25 Words or Fewer.” In his introduction, Swartwood establishes a hierarchy of story length: sudden fiction, flash fiction, micro fiction, drabble and dribble, the latter being 50 words. Obviously, his final category is hint fiction of 25 words.
“Hint fiction,” he says, “should not be complete by it having a beginning, middle and end. Instead it should be complete by standing by itself as its own little world.”
Twenty five words seems a bit too short for a story. But not too short for a hint of one?