Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Short Stories Vs. Flash Fiction

I dislike writing short stories, yet I enjoy flash fiction. This preference is in accord with my extremist personality of “all or nothing.” To explain it more logically: Flash fiction is usually no more than a scene. It is a moment captured in time, less than 1000 words, often less than 500. With all my flash fiction pieces, I have started either for a challenge or with a prompt. It’s been fun. Regardless of whether it’s publishing worthy or not, it doesn’t take very long to write it once you get going. In contrast to that, short stories say between 1500 – 3000 words (though they could be much longer) require minimum 2 characters, fleshed out enough to carry the story. It requires beginning, middle and closure with a satifying ending. It requires much more effort and time. And for me, it’s always been difficult to come up with short stories, because they are what I call “middle ground”. They aren’t short enough like flash fiction to create as a snippet, and they are not long enough like a book to delve deeper into plot and characters. They are in the middle – and I resent putting in a lot of time for what turns out to be a 1500 words long story, often without much hope for publishing because markets are so limited and so rigid about their guidelines or for lousy pay (if any). Flash fiction, even unpublished or simply published for free, in my opinion is worth the effort, because it is more like a creative exercise. It teaches you to tell a story in a few words. It acts as a creative jump-start to get the juices flowing, and the commitment of time is so short that I don’t feel resentful if I don’t think it’s good enough to be published. With short stories, the frustration of coming up with suitable ideas for suitable legnths, the investment of time in creating characters and plots, and then creating a story, editing it – it’s just all too much. And as I have found again and again, not worth my time, because more often than not, the process gives me no joy, and the final product while often all right, still isn’t the kind of thing I get immensely excited about. Whereas flash fiction pieces, however short, usually contain far more satisfying stories for me. How do you feel about the two? Is there any particular reason why you like more one than the other?

6 comments:

  1. They really are very different, aren't they? The short story (around 10,000 words) that I'm working on was started as a challenge to myself. I know I can write flash (I agree, that's more of an exercise), I know I can finish a novel. And I like to read longer short stories because they so nicely pass the time in waiting rooms, on breaks, or other times when I might not be able to really get into a novel.

    I'm not sure how I feel about my short story yet. I'm writing it with a couple specific markets in mind for submission, but there's always that thought in the back of my mind: "Would this just be better as a novel?" I waffle back and forth on that.

    I think if I can get it finished, polished and sold, that might convince me that it's worth it to write more. Certainly they'll take less time than a novel, and there's always a market for short stories in the romance/erotica genre. We'll see though - the jury is still out until I get it finished and edited.

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  2. This is a very interesting topic! With me it's not that I dislike writing short stories, it's just that I tend to struggle with them more than either flash fiction or novels.

    I like flash fiction because they're quick and don't take a lot of planning. I like novels because I can take my time and give my imagination free reign. Short stories on the other hand are some where in between - though they take less time to write than a novel, they still need the planning and detail.

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  3. I've written children's books that are short, but I haven't tried flash fiction or writing an adult short story. Maybe I should try both. I can see your point, though, about the difference and your preference.

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  4. I've been studying and writing flash fiction for almost three years. A number of proponents of the genre (but not all) would disagree with your depiction of flash. I worked for one online journal in which the editors didn't accept stories if they didn't have a beginning, middle, end, and character arc -- just like one finds in short stories. Good flash isn't easy write. There's simply less to rewrite, and rewrite, and rewrite.

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  5. Jamie,
    I just can't bring myself to work on 10K long short story. I have tried it before, but ended up turning it into a novel. It's just far too long committment for me to be happy with a short story.

    C R,
    Because I don't particularly like to read short stories (except for the literary kind in New Yorker) I just don't find the middle-ground satisfying.

    Tara,
    You should give it a go. Until you try it, you won't truly know what form appeals to you more.

    Jim,
    I am not saying "publishable" flash fiction is quick to produce or doesn't have to be a proper story. But in this post, I am talking more about the pleasure of writing. For me flash fiction is a pleasure to write, whereas short story isn't. Whether or not they are of publishable standard is a different issue entirely. I am simply commenting about the process of creation, and for that purpose, it's far more easier for me to come up with a flash fiction piece than a short story.

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