Sarah Barr

Writer, poet and teacher

Flash Fiction Thoughts

Today is National Flash Fiction Day – maybe the first of such occasions as the title ‘flash fiction’ is relatively new. Every day must now be a something day, or several somethings, and I can imagine some incongruous pairings!

We sometimes like our stories to be ultra-mini – the theory being that in today’s fast-moving world we haven’t got time for anything that takes longer than 5 minutes to read.

I think the very short story does have a past – think of Raymond Carver’s stories. I recently read one, ‘The Father’, which is only a little over a page. It’s in his collection, ‘Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?’ first published in the USA in 1976. I recommend Carver’s stories for their disturbing insights, brevity and crisp scene setting.

Some of his stories were made into the film, ‘Short Cuts’.

In The Guardian yesterday, David Gaffney gives some advice for writing flash fiction. He suggests that the story should start in the middle. Also, he thinks that the ending should appear before the actual end.

I am much more at ease with writing longer stories. But I do write poetry and this has perhaps some similarities with flash fiction. There are differences, though. As some of my writing group and I discussed over coffee in Wimborne today: a poem doesn’t have to tell a story but flash fiction does. Doesn’t it?

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3 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Thoughts

  1. I am also intrigued by the relationships and differences between flash fiction and poetry. In a recent article I read by Carrie Etter (who writes prose poetry) she mentioned that the question was asked of Simon Armitage’s recent collection – are they poems or flash fictions? Carrie has spoken of the focusing on one moment in a prose poem but surely that could be said of lined poetry and of a flash fiction or a short story. Do you think that flash fictions focus more on plot whereas prose poetry revels in language?

    • Thanks for your ideas, Josephine. I’ve been away on a course but back now and so am able to reflect on your questions. I decided to find a prose poem as an example, and so … serendipitously turned to the Bridport Prize 2010 Anthology and selected ‘Wednesday’ by Cheryl Moskowitz, to consider. This seems to be a poem about grief, amongst other things. It is mysterious and evocative with vivid imagery. Perhaps the ‘story’ would be more explicit if it called itself ‘flash fiction’. Rhythm as well as language seem important in this prose poem. I agree with your ideas that flash fiction may focus more on plot, whereas prose poetry prioritises language – but I think the two shade into each other, don’t you?

      And then, to my delight, I saw that your prize winning poem,’Honeymoon’, is on the facing page of the anthology. Thank you. This compelling description of a honeymoon spent with elderly relatives made me hope that the two young people were able to get away somewhere else – somwhere sunnier and more private – fairly soon after! I like the uplift of the final couplet in your poem.

      • Thanks for some really thought provoking comments and your kind words about ‘Honeymoon’. (‘Clearing the Ice’ is wonderful in its dense brevity and has remained with me since reading it almost two years ago). You’re right, there is overlap between the forms. I really enjoy your blog.

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