via Nicole Monaghan
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
When I think of flash fiction, I get an odd image in my head. I am on a subway and a scruffy forty-ish year old man with a dirty salt and pepper beard is there in his tan raincoat. He walks over to me, flashes me and then walks on as if he didn’t just show me his birthday suit and as if that is a normal thing for people to do. Like within that moment, he showed me everything and nothing. It was a snapshot of his raw human essence. I am left wondering if I just did see what I thought I did just see. Oh and yes, it is creepy but leaves me with something to think and talk about.
To me, that is the purpose of flash fiction. In less then a thousand words, you get a raw snapshot of a moment. You get the basic foundation of a story. Maybe saying you get all the necessary details is better. But to me, flash fiction is like a punch in the gut. A quick jab that leaves you hunched over and breathless. When you finish reading one, you should have a Batman type word over your head (like “Pow!” or maybe “Boom!” in the crazy comic book writing).
I also see flash fiction as a photograph. You look at it once and smile. You say, “oh what a cute baby” then just move along to the next picture. Days later, you look again at the photo and you are taken aback because who’s hand is lightly holding that baby in the picture? Why is the picture so blurry in that one spot? You don’t remember anything unusual happening when the picture was taken and you definitely didn’t see that the first time you looked at the picture.
Am I wrong in this assumption of flash fiction? Do I just think I am Ms Smarty Pants and I am missing an important detail and aspects about this genre? Why is it so difficult for me to get a handle on this genre? Is it like poetry and just not for me? Am I so undisciplined that I can’t get the rules down? Should there be so many rules in writing? Who are the judges of all the rules? What am I doing wrong?
Again, that question of “why am I writing” comes to my mind. I need to learn to tell my stories as I truly seem them and stop trying to force them to fill a requirement. It’s difficult because so many people have different ideas on what is acceptable and what isn’t. But, I think all writers have to be able to be happy with what they have written and accept that maybe this person doesn’t like it. We have to search for the person who does like our story. I won’t lie; it’s difficult to look for that person or magazine. But don’t we owe it to our stories and our characters to find the best home for them?