Flash Fiction: Telling Big Stories In Fewer Words
This weekend, writers from around the state will gather in Greensboro for the North Carolina Writers’ Network Spring Conference. WFDD's Bethany Chafin spoke with novelist and poet Steve Cushman about one focus of the conference - the powerful genre of flash fiction.
On defining flash fiction:
Flash fiction runs from six words to a thousand words. But of course you know there are some certain attributes, certain qualities of flash fiction that do make it different from your typical short story. For example, flash fiction is really all about compression - compression of details and stories and characters. Flash fiction usually only involves one scene, a couple of characters, [and] takes on a single plot or theme if you will. And quite often though not always there is a twist at the end.
Where to start with flash fiction?
Sometimes I do start with a bigger story and I just, you know, whittle down. I have written some flash fiction like that but most of the flash fiction that I write I sort of know at the beginning that it's going to be a Flash piece. I have this sense that I'm going to have a story to tell and I'm going to get in and out in two or three pages. With that said sometimes flash fiction - I'll use it sort of as a challenge for myself. I have a story that's 1,200 [words] and I want to get it down to 1,000 words and so I'll use that as an opportunity or motivation to see how much I can cut. Certainly not something I do all the time but it is a way to change things up with your writing. Sometimes that can be a fun way to approach it.
On twist endings:
When I write most short stories or poems or anything, I generally don't know what the end is. I always feel sometimes that in those instances when that does happen there's not a whole lot of interest or excitement in writing it if I know exactly the story I'm going to tell. If you're reading a lot of a certain genre you sort of get a feel for it, it gets in your blood. If you're reading a lot of lyric poetry or you're reading a lot of narrative poetry it's just sort of natural, I think, that that's what you're going to end up writing. And so I think that whether consciously or subconsciously, I think if you're writing flash fictions I'm always sort of thinking there's going to be a little bit there at the end, a little sort of twist.
Flash fiction writers Cushman admires:
A couple of writers that I really enjoy are Stuart Dybek, Kathy Fish, Sherrie Flick, Amy Hempel, Meg Poe. [They] are all writers that spend a lot of time writing flash fiction. You know all of them, I think, probably write other things as well but they do write flash fiction. And there's an anthology called The Best Small Fiction.