Updated: Jun 3
Today, I'd like to talk about flash fiction! Flash fiction is a fiction style that encompasses many subsets. These are separated by their length. For example, a micro fiction piece could have up to 100 words in total, sudden fiction usually caps out around 750, and flash fiction tops out at 1,000. There are others as well, but they vary by name and length (a mini-saga, for instance, is 50 words.) But why? Isn't it harder to tell a provocative story with less words?
Robert Swartwood, in his book, Hint Fiction, says, "Some commentators have suggested that flash fiction possesses a unique literary quality in its ability to hint at or imply a larger story." Leaving more to the imagination is an understatement when it comes to flash fiction. The trick, like any kind of writing, is to say just enough.
Try it out! Flash fiction can be very challenging to create, but when being concise is your main goal, you'll carry this lens of writing to your other works, which could make editing easier as you'll be able to readily identify and eliminate excessive prose.
As for some examples of this style of prose, Ernest Hemingway's infamous six-word short story comes immediately to mind as flash fiction, but there is no minimum, only a maximum. For example, below is some micro fiction of my own; at a sparse 535 words, it is the shortest fiction I have written to date. As far as established authors go, Richard Brautigan may be the closest thing to a forefather flash fiction has, and Sherrie Flick is a masterful technician in the genre today. I would urge you to try your hand at, well, not trying to use it much at all!
The Weight of the World
The king is safest in his own castle, a palatial mountain range of pointed peaks that burst through lush valleys evergreen. His craggy form of stringed muscles and skin taut against protruding bone knots tells the life of hard labor he endures. With skin as rough and creased as crumpled iron, his long fingers grip yet another stone and hoist it to a looming shoulder. Dark, strong feet pad through the silence of the peaks of the earth.
Nothing plagues him here; even the birdsong of the rising sun does not reach above the clouds. He breathes, sleeps, and works among the plains of the sky, higher than any creature will soar.
All but one.
With the vision of a god and the stillness of a rock, he catches sight of two climbers clad in rope and harness. One belays the other up the stark, granite face of the mountain, edging closer and closer to its peak. They dig their picks into the rock and pull themselves along. Sometimes they glance in his direction, if only to take in the scenes of the sheer rock and the breadth of beauty that is being this high above the sea and trees and the living, mortal beings. To them, they are the only ones here. They are the champions of their own ambition, reaching for a literal pinnacle of achievement.
They climb on, unaware of the king and his good work.
With feet rooted to the inclining, impossible slope, the king ascends his current project. Up he climbs, with legs like the towering trunks of giant pines, both in their mass and their gnarl. The stone he has lifted, many times larger than himself, comes to rest on the plateau that will soon be another peak.
It is a magnificent thing, his workspace above the clouds. Here, he takes the stone he has so daintily delivered and carves it into the rest of the mountain. His bare hands wear away the stone like a thousand years of rainwater and shapes it until it is part of the mountain itself. And then he turns and travels back to the quarry of forgotten stones, to take another boulder upon his bony shoulders and transform it with purpose. His work, like the reaching of the climbers, is never done. He will build these peaks so long as a fire is lit in them to conquer something. So long as they will climb.
He is Atlas Telamon, the keeper of human ambition, the holder of balance between humans and their intrinsic, god-like want.
Without him, the sky would fall, and the humans would have nothing left to reach for.
And there would be no fire in their chests and no adventure in their feet.
And the stars would come crashing on their weak shoulders.
And humanity would break and decay, like the gods before them.
But not Atlas Telamon. Not he who endures. He will build these mountains. He will hold the sky and its many stars until he is called to stop.
Atlas Telamon loads another granite slab to his shoulder and continues his good work.