by: M.M. Wittle
This interview comes about because I do not know much about flash fiction. I like reading it. I tip my hat to those who work in it. So I decided to ask some flash fiction writers my questions in order to teach myself about this avenue of fiction. Here is the first interview in a new series for the Philadelphia Stories blog. I would like to thank Jim Breslin for allowing me to pick his brain about flash fiction.
Wittle: What is your definition of flash fiction?
Breslin: I define flash fiction loosely as being any story that is under 1,000
words. A traditional story also has a beginning, middle and an end,
but flash fiction doesn’t always necessarily follow a narrative. In my
mind, flash fiction includes prose poems. Good flash fiction swiftly
reveals a larger, often unsettling truth.
Wittle: Who are your flash fiction idols?
Breslin: Lydia Davis is my favorite. One Story Magazine just created a list of
their favorite short stories of all time. They put a Lydia Davis story
that is eight words long on their list. I love it. Her Collected
Stories is always on my nightstand.
Wittle: How did you come to write flash fiction?
Breslin: I’ve always been a fan of short stories, and spare short stories at
that. I love Raymond Carver’s stories. He once said he felt short
stories were more like poetry than novels. Of course he wrote both. As
for true flash? I think two things. Reading the stories of Lydia Davis
wowed me. The second thing that led me down that path was when I
joined Fictionaut, which is a writers community where people post
stories and comment on each other’s work. I found myself drawn to
reading the flash fiction pieces. There are many great writers
experimenting with flash fiction there.
Wittle: When writing flash fiction, in your mind, how do you know the story
will work best as a flash piece verses a short story?
Breslin: I don’t set out to write either a flash fiction piece or a short story
piece, but instead I try to make sure the story is no longer than it
needs to be. I had taken one story, The Pasture, to the Philadelphia
Writers Group for a critique. As the group discussed it, someone said,
“You know, this really feels more like a prose poem than a story.” And
they were right.
Wittle: In flash, every word must count. How do you stay economical in your
words? Do you focus on having strong, concrete verbs? Do you use
proper nouns for places? An example would be” instead of “the river by
the homes that light up at night” to “Boat House Row”.
Breslin: I revise, revise, revise. I forget the name of the writer who said, “I
sweat over every word. I only hope it doesn’t show,” but it is a
truth. Shaping a piece of flash fiction allows you to zoom in and
focus at a granular level. I think it’s much different than writing a
novel, where the structure has to be built first and you have to
continually zoom in and zoom out for perspective. I prefer taking
small moments and putting them under the microscope.
Wittle: What advice would you give someone who is looking to start writing
Breslin: I would recommend checking out Fictionaut, Figment and other web sites
that feature flash fiction writers. The internet and mobile devices
will drive the growth in flash fiction and short stories. Many writers
place flash fiction on their own blogs. With people becoming more
comfortable reading on their phones, there’s more opportunities for
people to take five minutes and read flash fiction. Also find a local
critique group that will challenge you and give you honest feedback.
Every story that is included in Elephant was critiqued in multiple
groups and/or placed on Fictionaut for feedback.
Jim Breslin writes shorts stories and flash fiction. His stories have
appeared in Metazen and Think Journal. His shortest works and first
publication was in The World According to Twitter. He also contributes
to the Town Dish websites. Jim is the founder of the West Chester
Story Slam, a monthly storytelling event in West Chester, where he
lives with his wife and two sons. You can check out his flash fiction
piece, Egg Shells, which was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, at