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What’s This ‘Flash Fiction’ Then?

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Jenna Benson

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Concision — now there’s a word — the art of getting the job done in as few as possible. In poetics, this tends to be referred to as compression, and for a talented exponent look no further than whoever wrote Shakespeare’s Henry V, in the speech before Agincourt:

Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,

But he’ll remember with advantages

What feats he did that day:

Compression— old men forget — three words, making much available for the reader to ponder, if they should choose to. A world, a very universe, contained therein.

Writing does have this tremendous leverage when one is allowed to use words such ‘universe’: one small word, a hell of a lot in it.

And if the point can be well-made then it is better made quickly? Quite possibly.

But no, I’m not here to demand an end to all discursiveness. The Remembrance of Things Past can’t be done in any less, that’s one of its raisons (although, say it quietly, War and Peace might benefit by having some of Tolstoy’s 50-page digressions on modern farming methods as very optional extras).

Flash fiction is generally accepted to have an upper limit somewhere around 1000 words. It probably does have to be a slightly different animal to the ‘short story’.

It doesn’t have a lower limit — though it’s definitely cheating by using a title that’s longer than the story. We’ll not have any more of that, not after the incident.

It can be of any genre or none.

It isn’t really poetry: perhaps it’s something between poetry and prose, especially if you take the view that poetry is now the exclusive property of Hampstead types and rap artists, or dead.

There’s something of a debate as to whether flash fiction should always express a complete narrative, beginning, middle, end, that sort of thing: I’d suggest no, if only on the basis that shoulds are rarely a good idea.

It might also be argued that flash fiction is a product of the modern attention span and its perceived limits — old men always grumble about modernity — though it doesn’t do any harm, in the age of e-readers and other mobile devices, to offer something to fit the time span of the proverbial train journey.

A valid literary form? Well, in one sense, who cares? It seems to have arrived and doesn’t seem to be going away just at present. They even have flash fiction competitions now, with, like, cash prizes to be won…

However, flash fiction definitely fits well with the Creative Commons, free-to-download scene. Some of us are not so enamoured with the commercialism of self-publishing, and do wonder whether always to believe the sort of art they make you pay for. Flash fiction is a bit at the outsider, guerilla, end of things, we like to cultivate…

At flashfictionmagazine.com we publish a piece by a new writer every day; we also have a stable of featured authors busy producing their work as and when. I have to say I’m constantly impressed at the quality that arrives in the inbox every day, and we certainly aim to publish everything that comes in — it’s not our job to sit in critical judgment. There again, perhaps we are slightly old-fashioned about grammar and punctuation, you know…?

We’ve got whole cycles of stories, we’ve got stories told in ten words (the hard-core end), we have writers setting themselves the 100-word challenge, exactly 100 words, no more no less. Flash fiction does fit well with the infamous 140-character story and the one-story-a-day blogging scenes.

We’ve got work covering Tibetan sky burial, Hedy Lamarr’s Tuna Salad recipe, the airport travails of talking luggage — the whole range, we’d like to think. That said, we are trying to broaden things beyond English all the time.

Lastly, because we’re kind-hearted types, keen to promote literary talent amid the trackless deserts of genre dross to be found at any good online outlet, we only have ‘like’ buttons on every post.

There, I reckon I’ve managed to get the point across in the available space…

(c) Jenna Benson

Flash Fiction Magazine publishes new flash fiction everyday and is open to submissions. They say “Flash fiction is generally accepted to have an upper limit of around 1000 words. There’s no lower limit.

It can be of any genre or none.

It certainly doesn’t have to be in English…

As part of the submission process, you are asked to agree to our fairly simple publication terms (see below), should your story be accepted. There are also some fairly standard guidelines you might wish to check before submitting.”

Click here to visit the submission page.

About the author

Jenna Benson is editor and drudge at flashfictionmagazine.com and is also @flashficmag

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