Flash fiction taking hold, says Masih; style becoming more experimental
Flash fiction is becoming popular in part because the academic world is beginning to take notice and more colleges and universities are teaching the genre, says author and flash fiction writer Tara L. Masih. This popularity is not necessarily connected to our shrinking attention spans. That’s been going on for a century or more, she says.
Masih is the author of The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction. In a recent email interview she explored flash fiction and its antecedents. Despite its recent growth, Masih says, flash fiction is not considered serious fiction by everyone.
“…I’ve encountered some pretty strong opinions about flash not being a serious literary form,” she says. “There is the attitude that because it is so short, it must be easier to write and therefore not worthy of being included in the literary canon.”
With a number of respected writers now using flash fiction, however, Masih says, and with more students requesting it, “the academic world is beginning to take a closer look.”
Flash fiction or shorter fiction, says Masih, was actually more popular during the 1800s and into the 1900s. Due in large part to the Industrial Revolution, our attention spans began getting shorter, she says. The population was becoming more literate but had less time to read. “This climate,” she says, “allowed writers like O. Henry and Edgar Allan Poe to make a living writing short works for magazines.”
Short fiction dwindled–or went underground says Masih–“when periodicals folded and with the advent of television.
“Literary journals kept it going, and it moved away from the formulaic O. Henry style to a more experimental, poetic style,” Masih says. “The recent interest is a resurgence rather than a new movement.”
According to Masih, the Internet and the proliferation of online flash fiction journals has helped spread the popularity recently, as has flash anthologies edited by Robert Shapard and James Thomas.
It was one of those anthologies, Sudden Fiction, that made Masih realize that more and more authors were writing little stories and that flash was becoming its own genre. In high school her writing teacher taught students to write vignettes.
“[The teacher] believed in writing from deep wells and capturing intense emotional moments,” she says. “So my prose style was formed very early in my writing life.”
Masih earned an MA in writing and publishing from Emerson College, where she taught freshman composition and grammar. In addition to her instruction book on flash fiction, she is the author of, Where the Dog Star Never Glows, a collection of short fiction that was finalist in the National Best Book Awards.
Short short fiction comes in many categories, just like longer works, she says. Flash fiction stories can be considered literary, science fiction, speculative, horror, or romance. The term flash fiction, she says, applies to stories less of less than 1,500 words. Tiny stories, as popularized by some journals that look for fiction under 100 words, are in the realm of microfiction, says Masih.
“Some writers refuse to use the term ‘flash’ and insist on ‘short shorts,’ ‘one-page fictions’ or simply ‘stories,’” she says.
“Flash is just one label. There are many. And I don’t think labeling helps anything creative.”
Works by Tara L. Masih