Kurt Mueller: Flash Fiction is Like Poetry, Built of Baking Soda and Cocaine

photo credit: Martin Jönsson via Flickr

Flash fiction is different. You don’t see it all too much, but when you do it stands out. Rather than a full-length short story that focuses on character and plot and motivation and verisimilitude and all that annoying shit they teach you as highly important in MFA school, a flash piece allows a prose writer to concentrate on a single image or emotion or the bones of a story, much the way a poet would. Of course, flash pieces can tell complete stories, and often they do, but I love the quick hit of flash. If flash is crack, traditional short stories are heroin, and novels are booze. A short piece of a couple hundred words can fuck someone up just as intensely and permanently as a longer piece, but it does so instantly and leaves the reader wanting more.

“If flash is crack, traditional short stories are heroin, and novels are booze.” 

The crazy thing is that it’s way harder to write a good flash piece than it is to write a full story. The writer has no time to fuck around with superfluous words in flash; there’s less margin for error, so bad writing is obvious in shorter works where it may be obscured by interesting characters or exciting action in longer pieces. It can also be harder to read because the author doesn’t hold a reader’s hand through a flash piece. There’s no time for backstory or detailed explanations. Readers must connect the dots themselves; generally, metaphors aren’t explained in much detail. Really, it’s just baking soda and cocaine. That’s it.

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