Flash Fiction

Harangue of the day: (from Writers Who Don’t)
If you’re not writing (for whatever reason), you’re not a writer. If you’re not selling work professionally, you’re not a writer.

Get over it.
Don’t get caught up in the details, folks. I’m talking profession here, not rudimentary activity. I play basketball every fall, yet I am not a basketball player. Michael Jordan is a basketball player.

First, let me start with a horror story that mathematicians tell. These airy masters of infinity say that no student should be taught category theory because it’s too hard. Because it’s too hard, it will break a student’s mind and scar him for life; he will drop out of university and become a computer programmer or night watchman or technical writer. Category theory, they say, should be reserved for professors of mathematics, who are the only people mature enough to handle it. Category theory is the smut of the mathematical world.

Now it would be a whole other blog entry to explain why I don’t believe in protecting the children from smut or the math students from category theory. To be brief, I don’t think that anything is good for one set of people and bad for another. Besides which, children have the same natural defenses against cooties that students have against category theory: disinterest and disgust.

Some writers, for their part, have an analogous defense against flash fiction (stories up to 1,000 or 1,500 words in length). They’re welcome to their disgust, but that doesn’t make flash fiction bad, or impossibly difficult, or a danger to the minds of young writers. It just means some people don’t like drabbles.

I’ve written 56 drabbles (100-word stories) in the past year, 50 of them in the last six months. Before that, I’d written two drabbles and one 25-word challenge in three years, but one of those two drabbles was the first story I finished. I admit that until the drabble bug bit me hard, I disliked drabbles as much as the next BOFQ. The most I’d gotten out of them was a few painful puns.

So why did I do it? Well, there was this Empty Shell challenge on ASC, but I didn’t have the time or energy for a serious response. What’s the shortest possible story you can write? Yes, a drabble. When in doubt, drabble. So I wrote a drabble series. A couple of months later when I started watching Stargate, I wanted to write something that would help me remember what had struck me about a particular episode. People write long, melodramatic episode additions if they watch an episode a week, but I couldn’t do that on an episode-a-day schedule. When in doubt, drabble. So now I have a series of drabble episode codas for several seasons of Stargate.

I’m a filker, so I’m used to not only fitting a story into a fixed size, but also getting it to rhyme and scan. Counting up to 100 words is simple by comparison. Drabbles, like filk, are harder than they look, but they’re not orders of magnitude harder than writing a normal story. In fact I find both filking and drabbling easier than most other kinds of writing, but then I wrote some poetry before I started writing fiction. I like fitting words in.

Seema doesn’t like drabbles, and she got Minisinoo going against flash fiction, but I haven’t heard an argument against them that doesn’t apply to all other fanfiction or all other genres. So drabbles are usually bad and incoherent - so is fanfic. So they’re often lazy and annoying - so is fanfic. So they’re frequently short and low on content - so is fanfic.

So writing flash fiction isn’t easy - neither are novels. Neither are novellas, or novelettes, or short stories. So they require skills the new writer may not have - so do novels, novellas, etc., etc. So most people can’t cram a beginning, middle, and end into 1,000 words - most people can’t do it in 10,000 or 100,000 words, either.

If a brand spanking new writer wants to write a flash story, it won’t kill her. You don’t have to save the newbies from themselves - any kind of writing is good practice, and nobody’s forcing you to read it. Writing flash fiction isn’t any more dangerous than writing schmoop and getting into bad schmoop habits. If the writer wants to get over that someday, she can. Take my word for it - I wrote a drabble three and half years ago, and I’m still here.

Comments are closed.