Flash Fiction: A Discussion Between Editors
Join Masters Review editors Kim Winternheimer and Sadye Teiser as they discuss one of their favorite forms.
Flash fiction is one of my favorite forms and I think it’s because in spite of how short the story is, an entire world unfolds. On an emotional level, I’ve felt just as much impact by flash as I have entire novels. I remember one in particular, a story by Neil Gaiman (who I mention here proudly as he is a writer who spans so many genres) titled, “Nicholas Was…” This piece is only 100 words but I remember being so moved by the power and imagination behind it. I understood so much in such a short space. This got me thinking about how flash is actually quite broad, as humorous as it may sound for fiction that is so short. To some, it is any piece under 300 words and to others it can be much longer, 1000 words or more. At The Masters Review, we don’t have a strict word count, but we do have a strong history of publishing what I would consider flash fiction. When do you think a story stops being flash? And do you have any favorites that really pushed you to explore/appreciate this genre?
I agree that flash fiction holds a particular intensity. The best flash stories are complete, concentrated worlds that point to complexities outside of themselves. Broadly, I tend to think of flash as a story of 1,000 words or fewer. And there are all these subsets, like nano fiction, which is 300 words or less, or hint fiction, which is 25 words or less. As you say: I know flash when I see it. The writer who first sparked my interest in the genre is Lydia Davis, which is interesting because her work is not, as far as I know, overtly marketed as “flash” fiction. Her story “The Cedar Trees,” a fable-like tale about the women of a town turning into trees, has a strange cadence that has never quite left me. A new favorite writer of mine is Ashley Farmer, whose stories all communicate a feeling, a particular state of mind, with that economy of language that makes flash so powerful.
These examples illustrate what I love most about flash fiction: its extreme variety in terms of form. Every piece of flash invents a new form for itself; it decides how it will take you from point A to point B, and then it fulfills that promise. Of course, this can be true of all kinds of fiction, but I see a lot more variety in these very short stories. In flash, you can easily have a story that is all questions (like Donald Barthelme’s “Concerning The Bodyguard,” which actually inspired your “Concerning the Housewife”), that is made up of (surreal) dialogue (like “How The Water Feels to The Fishes,” by Dave Eggers), or that is a meditation on a single, cooked fish (“The Fish,” Lydia Davis). It’s so interesting how flash can often focus on a single fictional element: it is all plot, all setting, all interiority — but, more often than not, it tells a full story. Do you feel that, in looking at submissions and in your own writing, there is a certain freedom that comes with this shorter form? Are there any flash stories in particular whose forms have surprised you? (more…)