Flash: The Art and Craft of Writing Short
February 15, 2023 § 7 Comments
A Q &A WITH GRANT FAULKNER
By Andrea A. Firth
Grant Faulkner has been writing flash since the genre hit the literary scene. He is co-founder and editor of the journal 100 Word Story and published a collection of one hundred 100-word stories called Fissures. His latest book is The Art of Brevity: Crafting the Very Short Story. Brevity Blog editor Andrea A. Firth spoke with Grant about writing short prose.
Andrea A. Firth: Congratulations on the new book! You write flash fiction and your book’s title points to the “very short story.” Does what you cover in the book apply equally to nonfiction.
Grant Faulkner: To me, nonfiction and fiction are just different angles on storytelling. Everything is a story to me because no matter if it’s a story rooted in fact or a story that’s entirely imaginative, they follow the same storytelling principles in the end. While I write fiction, everything that I say in the book applies to short, personal essays too.
AAF: Can you provide a definition for flash as far as word count? Our flagship journal Brevity caps essays at 750 words.
GF: Flash is traditionally defined as stories that are 1,000 words or less. But within that there’s a range of subgenres. For example, short stories under 400 words are called microfiction, and then there are many subgenres within that: drabbles (100-word stories) and 6-word memoirs, to name just a couple.
While word count is the most popular way to determine the genre, I like thinking of flash through metaphors, and there’s a chapter in the book dedicated to seeing flash through different metaphors because I think being able to feel a story’s shapes and textures is a good way to write it. One that I like is, “Flash is the moment you hit the brakes.” There’s a suddenness to the form, with the world stopping in a single arresting moment. Another of my favorites is from Molly Giles, who calls flash stories “fireflies,” little illuminations in the dark.
And then there’s a quote by Ronald Barthes: “Is not the most erotic portion of the body where the garment gapes?” I think that’s a craft principle of the form—you are writing about that scintillating moment when the garment gapes, which I write about in a chapter on the erotics of brevity. It’s a hint of other things left to the reader’s imagination.
AAF: It feels like flash is hot, trending.
GF: I agree. When we launched 100 Word Story back in 2011, there were just a handful of journals publishing flash, and what seemed like a small, niche group of flash writers. There are hundreds of journals open to flash now, maybe more, and a huge writing community.
I can’t explain its trendiness. I like to think it’s about how flash has opened up a different type of storytelling. Maybe our lives have changed, and we need this form to tell the stories of our lives in a better way.
AAF: You introduce the idea that flash is about ambiguity. Can you expand on that?
GF: Longer works offer a promise of comprehensiveness because they encourage more explanation, more connective tissue. Flash has constraints. It’s constructed with gaps because not everything can go into the story. It moves through the power of suggestion, an escalation of hints, and an element of mystery. Flash opens up the story into a question that involves the reader more and invites them to use their imagination to seek clarity.
Or to live with ambiguity. I think of flash as being more of a conversation with reader and writer, as if they’re conversing on a Ouija board.
AAF: You say that flash communicates via caesuras and crevices. What do you mean?
GF: A flash story doesn’t speak just with the words on the page, it must speak with what’s left out, what’s left unsaid. Oftentimes, it’s very subtle, a matter of nuance. The art of omission is perhaps the most important tool in a flash writer’s toolbox.
AAF: You point to the benefits of the constraints of flash, that limited word count can be generative and freeing. How?
GF: It’s liberating in the sense that it makes you think differently. Flash forces you to think harder about what you’re putting into the story. It puts pressure on every word, every decision you make regarding the flow and mood of each sentence. You go deeper into the story and pay closer attention.
AAF: You also say, “I think the most meaningful moments of our lives reside in small pivots and fissures.” Similarly, Phillip Lopate has described personal essay as a taste for littleness, accessing the small, humble things in life. How does this connect with flash?
GF: One of the main benefits of the flash form is that it allows me to dramatize the smaller moments in life and give them significance. Most of our memories are like snapshots. We need a container for these small moments because they often don’t fit in larger narratives.
AAF: Flash doesn’t leave much room for context. How does the writer handle that?
GF: The short form invites the question: How much context do you need? Dinty W. Moore has a great metaphor for this. He says you don’t place the firefighter at the edge of the forest and have him walk into the fire, you plop the firefighter right down in the blaze. You remove all the background and start at the point of the drama.
AAF: As our conversation comes to a close, do endings in flash differ from longer works?
GF: In the book, I quote Jayne Anne Phillips who says, the last lines of a short-short “should create a silence, a white space in which the reader breathes. The story enters that breath, and continues.” What she’s saying about the ending is that there is a touch of ambiguity, a question hanging in the air with the invitation for the reader to fill in the gaps. The story continues off the page, and the reader carries it forward.
Grant Faulkner is the Executive Director of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). In addition to The Art of Brevity, he’s also published All the Comfort Sin Can Provide; Nothing Short Of: Selected Tales from 100 Word Story; and Pep Talks for Writers: 52 Insights and Actions to Boost Your Creative Mojo. He has been anthologized in collections such as Norton’s New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction, Flash Fiction America, and Best Small Fictions. His essays on creativity have been published in The New York Times, Poets & Writers, LitHub, Writer’s Digest, and The Writer. Find Grant online on Facebook.
My new go-to guide on flash. Marvellous piece. Thank you. Constraints, omissions, ambiguity, fireflies, crevices, metaphors…I understand flash better and am more drawn to it than ever before. It’s burrowing into light.
A helpful, insightful interview. Thank you for the insights about flash writing.
“AAF: It feels like flash is hot, trending.” One thought about flash’s popularity: My sense is that readers’ attention spans are not as developed as formerly.
Thanks Mary Ann. That idea of reduced attentions-an does get mentioned. And yes, we do spend so much time in front of screens, which may have changed out way of reading. But I do think the flash genre has its own, unique draw. Grant probably has more to share on this 🙂
I would be interested to see a study about this. I know it’s affected video based social media but does that translate to other forms of mediums as well? I know people love Twitter for being short snippets but now you can write longer Tweets and put out newsletters which I think defeats the purpose of it.
Really interesting interview! Thanks for sharing! I don’t write a lot of flash fiction but my new writer’s group seems to encourage them for some of our meetings. So I’ll have to check out more flash fiction and read his book. 🙂 I’m not very good at writing flash fiction or short stories in my opinion, but I’m really good at novels.
Thanks for the kind feedback. yes, writing flash does require a different approach and set of writing skills as compared to a book-length work like novel as Grant explains. (His book goes into much greater depth.) But think about it– micro fiction, say a 100-word story, can be written in one sitting, in part of an afternoon. Of course there’s revision to come, but how refreshing to have a story draft that fast. It maybe a genre that’s fun to explore between your novel drafting :-)-Andrea