Flash Fiction

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We are inundated by fiction. Every trip to the few remaining bookshops has more and more books marching along the shelves, magically procreating like the enchanted brooms in Disney’s Fantasia.

There are so many books and so little time, especially when most of our reading now takes place online, in reading web articles and ever-shorter Facebook posts. For a new author, it is very difficult to get noticed in the midst of all that noise. People just don’t have the patience or the interest in picking up an unknown author’s work, especially when there are so many classics still lurking at the end of our lifetime reading list.

How on earth can a beginning author get noticed in these ultra-competitive times?

One way is writing Flash Fiction.

Flash Fiction is the art of writing short, haiku-esque pieces of prose. Some people set themselves the target of a single paragraph whilst others think a piece of flash fiction might be as long as 1,000 words. At its extreme, it may even been a single sentence or a tweet.

The haiku comparison is particularly relevant because huge numbers of people in Japan read books on smart phones, and many novels begin their lives in this short-paragraph format. However, don’t get too excited. Japanese has a big advantage over English in this medium. A lot more information can be transmitted on a smart phone screen using Japanese characters than using the Western alphabet. So it’s unclear whether this phenomenon might make the cross-cultural leap as successfully as Manga comics.

In fact, the whole concept of  flash fiction is hardly new. The Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges wrote whole books full of pithy stories, often retelling myths and legends from around the world. Works like The Book of Imaginary Beings are packed with memorable brief texts. As Borges and his co-author Adolfo Bioy Casares wrote in Extraordinary Tales, the bare story is everything: “the rest is episodic illustration, psychological analysis, fortunate or inopportune verbal adornment.”

The key question from a publishers’ point of view is how to make money from the format, but that shouldn’t be the overriding aim of the author. An author’s first priority should be getting readers and not worrying about trying to make a living out of their pen. A busker doesn’t pass round the hat before playing any songs.

So if you fancy your chances, you could try looking at online resources like the recently relaunched Flash Fiction online or for a more SF angle, check out 365tomorrows.com. Finally, Flash fiction Friday invites submissions on a weekly theme, with an occasional SF bent.

Why not give it a go? Who knows, you might find that you’re more than just a flash in the pan?

3 COMMENTS

  1. Very well said Alastair. Thanks for providing the wonderful links. Flash fiction is a great outlet for authors to release all of those fantastic ideas pent up in their heads that might never be let loose otherwise.

    Another site I like to frequent is http://dailysciencefiction.com. As the name indicates, a new story is posted daily and their artwork is always amazing. They accept submissions of speculative fiction from 100 to 10,000 words, but they prefer the flash type with 1,000 words or less which are posted Monday through Thursday. The longer stories are posted over the weekends.

    • Cool link, Ricky – thanks for the heads up on Daily Science Fiction: the website looks great. I think that Flash fiction is a lot of fun to write and I'm sure it's going to take off over the next few years in a big way.

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