A reader recently asked me about flash fiction: Do I write it? Do I plan to write it?
Flash fiction is defined as very short fiction–usually only a few hundred words. Sometimes even less.
I write a lot of short stories (some of which you can read right here, on this site). But my average short story runs about 3K ~ 5K words. This is not excessive where short fiction is concerned (it’s about average, in fact), but that’s way beyond the length desired for flash fiction.
I have read a survey of the flash fiction available, both in print and on the Web. The vast majority of it, it seems to me, consists of either a.) truncated scenes and vignettes, or b.) mere contrivances of “irony”.
There is obviously little room for character development in flash fiction, let alone setting.
I mostly regard flash fiction as a literary parlor trick–mildly interesting (on occasion) but nothing to get excited about.
The main selling point I always see touted for flash fiction is that it appeals to the ultra-short attention spans that supposedly hamper all of us in this age of Internet/24-hour news cycle/social media/latest i-Gadget.
I’m all for making fiction more gripping–more like good television. (This is a real task for some writers of literary fiction.) But is it really true that people’s attention spans are so short that they won’t sit still for an engaging story?
I recently sat through 85 episodes of The Sopranos; and I’m far from the only one who can make that claim.
Yes, the Internet and the i-Gadgets have their temporary pleasures: the cat pictures, the viral meme about Donald Trump or Maxine Waters. But if there wasn’t an appetite for good long-form storytelling, then cable TV channels wouldn’t be able to viably produce long series like The Sopranos, Game of Thrones, and The Americans. (None of the aforementioned series would work for a viewer with a stereotypically short attention span.)
This doesn’t mean that audiences aren’t more fickle than they were in the days of Charles Dickens. To be sure, anyone who aspires to be a storyteller faces more competition than they did in the past.
But the goal should be better storytelling, not simply shorter storytelling. The Sopranos would never have worked as the television equivalent of flash fiction.