Nostalgia City Mysteries

Mark S. Bacon

Tag Archives: attention span

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?



Going long.  Going Short. by Grant Faulkner

Flash fiction lesson plan

Hint Fiction edited by Robert Swartwood

Catching up on e-book fine print

Writer’s note:  Normally when I have a computer problem, I first assume it’s operator error.  Often, I’m correct.  Therefore I’m reluctant to blame anything other than forgetfulness on the absence of the following article from this blog.  I wrote it and intended it to be published two weeks ago.  Yesterday while approving a comment someone sent in for my previous post I noticed that this article was only listed in draft, rather than “published” form.  And as it was not available in the archive, and two readers report they did not receive it, I have to assume it did not appear.  As the saying goes, the editors regret the error.


The corporate and legal wrangling over e-books would make a good mystery plot.  In fact, many aspects of the burgeoning e-book business are simply mysterious.   As the future of mystery fiction and flash fiction are tied to the advance of digital reading, this site has been making note of e-book developments.

In the past weeks, two events have hastened the broad availability of free, digitized literature: The last of the big six U.S. publishers joined the other five in agreeing to make their e-books available to public libraries and, a consortium of libraries and other organizations have launched a national digital public library.

Hachette joined Harper Collins, Macmillan,  Penguin Group, Random House and Simon and Schuster in making their e-books available to public libraries.  These companies publish about two-thirds of the books in the U.S.   Many details remain to be resolved and, according to Anthony Marx, writing in The New York Times, each publisher has different requirements for selling or licensing library e-books.

It’s logical to assume that the ease of checking out e-books at your local library and the availability of many titles will cut into the sale of e-books.  Just how soon the majority of popular books will be widely available in libraries is anyone’s guess.  It may take months or years.   For example, Spokane, Wash., Spokesman Review writer Adrian Rogers recently wrote that few of the current best-selling books are available in e-book format at the Spokane Public Library.

According to Marx, president of the New York Public Library, the Great Recession caused a nationwide surge in library use, yet many Americans don’t even know that libraries offer e-books, limited as the selection might be.

DPLA launched

The other recent development is the creation of the Digital Public Library of America, a modern-day Alexandria, that seeks to use resources from libraries across the country, digitize them and make them available free to the public.

Executive director of the DPLA, Dan Cohen, told Atlantic Monthly recently that the library was a “large-scale attempt, to knit together America’s archives, libraries, and museums, which have a tremendous amount of content–all forms of human expression, from images and photographs, to artwork, to published material and unpublished material, like archival and special collections.”

One of the goals, according to Cohen, is to make it easier for researchers–or anyone–to find material that they might otherwise have to discover by visiting hundreds or thousands of websites.  In addition, third-party users will be able to create apps based on DPLA content.

Cohen told the Atlantic that they would be looking for “alternative licensing” that will help them make more e-book material available.

Robert Darnton, director of Harvard University’s library system, addressed the copyright challenges to making e-books free for all in this new national library, calling the project “utopian.”   In a lengthy article in the New York Review of Books, he noted a March 2011 court decision that effectively derailed Google’s massive book digitizing project but said the DPLA hopes, “to win Google over as an ally in working for the public good.”   In any case, he said they would not wait for the courts to “untangle the legalities” before establishing the framework for the DPLA.

Apple accused of inflating prices

In an unrelated development, the Wall Street Journal reported Apple is defending itself in a Manhattan antitrust trial regarding the price of e-books.  The U.S, Justice Department is accusing the giant corporation of trying to eliminate price competition.  The detailed case revolves around the use of two different pricing models in which either retailers or publishers establish prices.

As has been clear almost since e-book popularity started to skyrocket–and noted in this space before–no one can really predict the future of digital media.  Publishers, retailers, libraries and other stake holders will be hashing this out for some time to come.  Authors and other artists may have a say in the process, but their role will be small.

For a discouraging look at the future of “original” digital material–dire for everyone except the top 1 percent earners–read Jaron Lanier’s article in the New York Times last Sunday called Fixing the Digital Economy.

Internet making us stupid?

Some months ago I wrote about studies showing that constant use of the Internet can shorten our attention spans.  Now comes a report that the Internet is also affecting how we remember things.

According to a video program on the Academic Earth website, the use of Google is changing how our brains operate, favoring short-term memory over the longer term because, well, we can always “Google” something, we don’t have to remember it.  We have conditioned ourselves to forget is the program’s provocative message.

See the links below to find the website.  While you’re there, check out some of the other short programs including a two-minute-forty-second summary of Atlas Shrugged, an examination of Internet anonymity and an explanation of how you may be born a Democrat or Republican.  Some of the programs sound like miniature TED talks.


NY Times on e-books and democracy

Interview with DPLA excutive director

Best-sellers scarce in Spokane

Robert Darnton in the NY Review of Books

Digital Public Library of America

Wall Street Journal report on Apple antitrust suit

Lanier on the future of the digital economy

Academia Earth

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. Rode Metal Press Guide to FF  Es  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

The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction

Where the Dog Star Never Glows

The Chalk Circle

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