- Flash Fiction
- A Sudden Flash, or Into and Out of the Pan
- Interview with Kirk Nesset, Our Flash Fiction Contest Judge
15 Mar 2013
Short Short, Sudden, Flash Fiction and Micro Fiction: The Age of the Miniscule Tale
Short short fiction has been in the news a lot lately, suited as it is to the Internet — but it’s not exactly new. Compact, miniscule stories have been with us since the beginning, manifesting in various forms as fables, folk tales, tall tales, monologues, epistles, ghazals, sonnets, anecdotes, parables, koans, Norse kennings and Sufi tales, among others. Stories between 1300–1500 words became popular in the US in the 40s and 50s in magazines like Collier’s, which published such pieces on a single page; size was aimed to accommodate magazine format and design. The form fell away after that, and began appearing sporadically again in the 1970s. In 1982, an anthology titled Short Shorts appeared, referred to by many as the granddaddy of the short short anthologies, featuring a star cast of international writers, including Tolstoy, Babel, Kafka, Chekov, Hemingway, Paz, Heinrich Böll, Doris Lessing and others; in1986, the first of W.W. Norton’s soon-to-be highly visible anthologies, Sudden Fiction, was published, followed by Flash Fiction, both of which inspired subsequent editions over the years — Sudden Fiction International, Sudden Fiction Continued, New Sudden Fiction, Sudden Fiction Latino, Flash Fiction Forward and Flash Fiction International, among others. In 1996, another influential anthology arrived on the scene, also published by Norton: Micro Fiction: An Anthology of Fifty Really Short Stories. These pieces took “sudden” and “flash” to the next extreme, constricting the form even more.
Critics and editors tend to classify the various forms according to length, as per those first editorial choices: sudden (one thousand words or less, usually less); flash (750 words maximum, usually 500 words or less); and micro (250 words or less, sometimes much less). Within the micro category, interestingly, we’ve recently seen more particular, sometimes stringent specifications and classifications. The drabble, for instance (55 words), and nanofiction, a brief (spurious) citation (a few sentences, if that); twitter fiction (140 characters) has been causing a stir, as has hint fiction (30 words or less). At the outset, of course, when the packaging began, there was a bit of bickering about how to discriminate, what exactly to call the new form. Postcard fiction. Minute fiction. Furious fiction. Fast fiction, quick fiction, skinny fiction, mobile phone fiction. Term after term arose as the form grew and proliferated. In France these days they’re called nouvelles. In China: the little short story, pocket-sized story, minute-long story, palm-sized story and smoke-long story (a story told in the time it takes to smoke a cigarette). Before the editors of the hallmark (and monumentally influential) volume Sudden Fiction landed on the name “sudden fiction” they solicited advice, I should add, from authors and editors about what to call this thing they had gathered. Happily they didn’t call them “blasters” or “snappers” as they originally thought that they might. The fiction editor at the world’s most illustrious men’s magazine chimed in to say, not surprisingly, “ ‘Short shorts’ ” is what we call them at Playboy, as in ‘We love short shorts,’ which we certainly do.”
(single author volumes)
Varieties of Disturbance: Stories (Lydia Davis)
Mr. Agreeable (Kirk Nesset)
Suddenly, a Knock on the Door (Etgar Keret)
Wouldn’t You Like to Know (Pamela Painter)
I Call This Flirting (Sherrie Flick)
The Rooster’s Wife (Russell Edson)
Vicky Swanky is a Beauty (Diane Williams)
Excitability (Diane Williams)
We the Animals (Justin Torres)
Minor Robberies (Deb Olin Unferth)
(other worthy anthologies)
(literary venues favoring flash fiction)
11 Jan 2013
A Sudden Flash, or Into and Out of the Pan
This piece will be published soon by Nano Fiction. Check back soon for a link to this work!
Interview with Kirk Nesset, Our Flash Fiction Contest Judge
See original article
Potomac Review’s Morgan Moyer virtually sits down with Kirk Nesset.
M: Do you start out, usually, intending to write a flash fiction piece? When and how do you know that what you’re working on will be flash?
KN: Lately, actually, it seems like I’m always starting out thinking I’m writing flash fiction. It’s less ponderous, less daunting, in terms of build-up, or planning. How awful can writing two or three pages be? Thirty or forty pages later, I’ll finally finish, pleased but bemused to see all it gained on its own, almost in spite of me and what I hoped to achieve. The flash format in cases like these is a spur, or a trigger. A trick to get the writer writing, thinking it won’t be such a big deal. Which isn’t to say the tiny tales aren’t big deals, and often hard to deliver. I spent three weeks working on “I’m Not Camille,” the title piece in my new manuscript of stories—a story barely four pages long. It fought me every step of the way.
M: What elements make up a good flash fiction piece, in your opinion?
KN: Brevity is essential, naturally. Which involves concision, compression, compactness, accelerated pacing, economy in delivery on all levels. Beyond and above and because of all this, we wind up with impact, and depth, especially in closing; we find the kind of universality one expects in a poem.
M: Do you have any advice for flash fiction writers?
KN: Write less, I would say, and read more. Read all the great works you can get your hands on, from Beowulf to Virginia Woolf — and after, and before. Read Norton’s collections of flash and sudden fictions over and over. Study the pieces you like best, or find useful as models, with the attention of a jeweler examining texture and color in gems, and placement and setting. When you do write, revise your piece mercilessly. Seventy or eighty drafts are just the beginning.
M: Where do you see flash fiction going in the near and far future?
KN: That’s a tough question. In the near future, the profusion of mediocre micro tales will keep crowding the net. Farther down the road, flash fiction will help to save literature, I think. It’ll keep people reading—on their phones, on their pads, and in their heads, where much of what we know, or can know, or experience, will finally be downloadable, and downloaded.
Kirk Nesset is author of Paradise Road, Mr. Agreeable, and Alphabet of the World: Selected Works by Eugenio Montejo. His work has appeared in The Paris Review, Kenyon Review, Gettysburg Review, others, and most recently The Potomac Review issue 48.