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  • Heather McQuillan

5 Good Reasons I Write Flash Fiction

Updated: Mar 16, 2021

Although I haven't been submitting much lately, I have still been writing flash fiction. The problem is that the more I learn about the form and the more I read astonishing work by others, the more critical I am of my own work. But I have been making the most of my writing residence time to revisit and polish pieces from the past couple of years. There's also the challenge to have three pieces ready for National Flash Fiction Day to drive me forward, and the deadline is getting closer! ( April 30 - I have it as April 15 in my diary because so many of those deadlines whoosh by!)

Over just a few years this short story form has taken a grip on me. I even wrote my Masters of Creative Writing thesis about it. Being challenged to justify my choice to write flash fiction as part of the academic process really set me thinking.

Is it that I am time poor and writing short short stories is all I can fit in?

Is it my obsessive nature that drives me to examine every word, every sentence?

Is it an 'easier' choice than poetry?

All of these things were suggested to me and the first two are probably true.

So here are 5 Good Reasons for my Flashination!

1. The chance to experiment and fail without big risk.

“The simplest-appearing work may have been brought off (when it does not fail) on the sharp edge of experiment, and it was for this that its writer was happy to leave behind him all he knew before, the safety of that, when he began the new story.” Eudora Welty

With flash fiction you can get away, to some extent, with trying out new ways to explore a story or to dig into character. My own experiments in putting together Where Oceans Meet led me to a very broad sweep of genre, themes, techniques and voice – some of these would be too hard to maintain, or may have worn the reader's patience, in a longer form piece. Along the way, pieces were able to be discarded or saved for another reworking another time – no big loss.

The scope for experimentation is one of the reasons that many writers are drawn to the form. The rules are not set and the risks, like the stories, are smallish.

2. Permission to obsess

A piece of flash fiction can be redrafted and crafted over a relatively short period but this does not mean that it is ‘easier’ to write a flash fiction than a longer story or a novel. My experience, having written novels for young readers, longer short stories and flash fiction is that each has its challenges.

One big positive is that it is possible to revisit a flash story numerous times, making incremental changes and experimenting with point of view or tense or style, without losing contact with the narrative flow. There is a delight in refining and sculpting that is akin to poetry writing. Cutting words and then discovering the essence of the story is stronger makes my writer's heart sing!

3. Agency and Access

The short story has long been a vehicle for different kinds of knowledge. The traditional short story form offered a way for dispossessed or “submerged” writers (women, minorities, LGBQT+) to tell their stories and this contributed in part to the early marginalisation of the short story as a topic for academic attention. Flash Fiction is following a similar trajectory.

Before becoming popular in the Western world and democratised through the Internet, the form already had a place in other cultures. Those voices are now finding a wider audience and the range of voices is expanding with youth journals such as fingerscommatoes offering new opportunities.

Now anyone with a computer can write and publish their flash stories online, or share on social media. This is a good thing! Who wants to be a gatekeeper anymore?

"Today everybody can tell a story. That is magical because everybody can express themselves." Paulo Coelho

4. The support of Aotearoa / New Zealand flashers!

The Ōtautahi / Christchurch flash fiction writing community is welcoming, supportive and very strong, thanks in large part to Frankie McMillan and her work with Hagley Writers' Institute. There are a lot of us for a small city!

#namedrop alert!

Special mention of my brilliant critique buddies Nod Ghosh, Jenna Heller, Zoe Meager, Gail Ingram, Sue Kingham, Sally Carroll, and colleagues at Write On- School for Young Writers: James Norcliffe, Melanie Dixon and Rose Collins.

Equally talented and supportive are the writers from around Aotearoa/ New Zealand. The team at Flash Frontier and NZ National Flash Fiction Day bring us all together regularly to celebrate the shortest of stories. Michele Elvy is a taonga- having for years guided both these ventures while sailing international waters. We are very lucky to have her now resident in Ōtepoti.

5. The international flash online community

There is a supportive international community of flash fiction writers online. Each day my newsfeeds provide me with writing to read and discussions to engage with (though I'm more voyeur than engager!) Reflex Press sends a daily reading to my email account, and there are many other online journals with freely accessed content.

I want to mention the wonderful team behind The Best Small Fictions. This edition is the third time I've had work selected for this anthology and it is a beautiful book full of quite remarkable and surprising writing from around the world. It was wonderful to be able to join in readings via zoom this year and I hope that will become a new tradition.

Even though there a lot of flash fiction competitions available, the community does not come across as competitive.

Want to join in the buzz?

  • Read some flash fiction.

  • Write some flash fiction.

  • Obsess over it.

  • Find some flash buddies.

  • Get involved in National Flash Fiction Day 2021. There are events around the country on the day, with workshops also happening in many communities.

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