Why I Hate Flash Fiction


Flash fiction – the relatively recent invention of short stories under 1000 words. It is both the ideal exercise for writers to fine tune their talents and branch into new areas with minimal effort and also a bite-sized literary snack for readers. Novels for the YouTube generation. However I have reached the conclusion that I hate Flash Fiction. I will now proceed to explain why:

There’s so bloody much of it. How I am supposed to read all that? I’m barely getting through one week’s batch when the next lot comes along. What if I miss something really great? People have taken the time and effort to read my things so I now feel obliged to return as many of the favours of possible but I feel like a man trying to swim against the tide. Just look at the most recent #FridayFlash collector, it has 74 entries – if I’m overly bold and accept that as an average, that means there are almost 300 new pieces of Flash Fiction popping up every month and around 3800 a year! I mean jings, that there’s a lot of reading.

Some of it is pretty dire. I’m sorry but I’ve read some real stinkers in my time. I’m not blaming everyone, hell I’m not even angry with the responsible authors, their next piece could well have been a masterpiece. But I still can’t help feeling robbed of those 3.5 minutes of my life. If it had been music I could have just skipped the track after the first 30 seconds and been okay but with fiction… even I’m not enjoying I HAVE TO FINISH IT.

Some of it is pretty amazing. There are some truly, truly stunning works of Flash Fiction floating around out there. I’ve come away from some stories just amazed that the author isn’t out getting themselves published, signing books in Waterstones, being interviewed on breakfast TV and getting their toes sucked by midgets (not all at the same time of course). But then I feel cheated. I feel cheated because I was enjoying their setting or the characters or the ideas so much that with only 1000 words I feel left hungry for more – I want to flick over to the next chapter and carry on enjoying what I was reading. Fair enough most writers skillful enough to have produced such quality recognise it themselves and go onto to write followups or serials but not always. Not always. And I’m left feeling the same way I did at the end of Firefly.

It’s so damned short. Okay okay, the short length is the whole point of it, I get that. But its still often just not enough space to flesh out a plot and as such a lot of fellow writers don’t even bother with a plot. It’s either just a stand-alone scene or an almost descriptive piece. Personally I don’t like this – I’m in for the plot people. It can be funny or beautifully descripted or filled with cutting, realistic dialogue but if you don’t take me on a journey, I ain’t happy.

It’s so damned restrictive. This time from a writer’s perspective. I hate having word limits (or any sort of limits for that matter). Sometimes I’ll hit that sweet spot and spend a couple of hours happily clacking away at the keyboard and finally, with a deep sigh of satisfaction I look down at the word count. Bugger. 1993 words. It’s not Flash Fiction, it’s a short story. I find this moment particularly gutting when it’s for a competition entry and I know I’m going to have to go through the harrowing process of choosing which words to sacrifice. That’s like choosing which of your children to give up.

So there you have it. That’s why I hate Flash Fiction. I hate writing it and I hate reading it. And yet I keep on doing both. Why is that?

I have a similar relationship right now with a computer game called Lead and Gold (and in the past Team Fortress 2 as well) – many a frustrating hour I have squandered playing that game, trying to find a decent server to play on and then players who aren’t a bunch of total knobs to play with. Often the gameplay is boring, sometimes the server crashes but all of these niggles are eclipsed by those sweet, sacred moments when you snipe an enemy player from across the map, leap down to the plateau below to rescue one of your team-mates and then find yourself holed up in an action-packed, cowboytastic shoot-out.

If you’re not a player of computer games then I’ve probably lost you by this point – the message I’m trying to give is for all my issues with Flash Fiction, they are so so much more than outweighed by the high points. As I’d mentioned, sometimes you come across real gold, I mean just outstanding quality and the fact you stumbled upon some masterwork on some random blog makes you feel like some sort of literary explorer, discovering an ancient civilization hidden in the depth of the inter-jungle. And there’s just such great community spirit, I love the way people RT each others tweets when they’ve enjoyed the story being promoted, I just think that’s great camaraderie. And then the comments, sometimes I think people are a bit shy with their comments and don’t speak up when they find something’s not up to scratch but it is still just a great feeling to have posted something that you’ve lovingly created up online for the world to see and to then hear real feedback from people that have appreciated (this can also be a wonderfully constructive process as I discovered recently). Then there’s the competitions and people who invest their own time to collating and promoting other people’s work. Writers and readers, I salute you all.

So there you have it. Flash Fiction. I absolutely hate it.

Title image courtesy jonnykeelty

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Published in: on September 18, 2010 at 5:07 PM  Comments (12)  
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12 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Don’t quite follow your first point about there being so much to choose from and getting lost in the throng – surely that applies to novels published in the real world as well? There is just the joy of diving in and maybe discovering a gem (or of course a turkey, less of a joy). You could always try searching by your favoured genres to narrow selection down.

    Keep the faith

    marc nash

  2. When we first started doing #fridayflash, there were not that many people in the community. Over the year I’ve been involved, it has grown so much. As you know, there’s no need to flesh out a plot with “flash” fiction. Nope. Just has to be a snapshot of storytelling.

    Some of it is quite marvelous.

    The flash community is very supportive and wonderful, so that’s a really good thing. 🙂

    Was amused by your grumble here, though.

  3. Haha. I liked this post. As a person that is ridiculously busy, writing and reading flash works fantastic for me. Its reading for the next generation. Those with three second attention

  4. Ha ha – glad my little post had made an impression so far (and that must of you have seen it for what it really is)! Cheers for swinging by!

  5. Thanks for saying what was lurking in my subconscious. I don’t play computer games, but I’ve played iPhone games (are those the same thing?) and it’s a perfect analogy.

    I’m with Carrie, I love the ability to dip away from may day job for 3 minutes and visit another world.

    And, you’ve written a few pieces yourself that shimmer in the littered landscape. Keep at it.

    • Yes I do suffer badly from “Just Five More Minutes” Syndrome with computer games. Another hour wasted where I could have been writing but at least I got a high-score!

      And yes Flash Fiction is perfect snack for between meals – I tend to pepper my morning commute with reading them.

  6. Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

    Great post.

  7. It’s redundant to say at this point: but I agree.

    That said, I find, as a writer, that the process of trying to hold myself to this hard word-count limit is very instructive, even when I fail. I hope that by engaging myself in this ultra-short form, I will improve my longer-form fiction as well.

    But yes… I've had to restrict my "diet" of Flash very much because I can't read all of it… my time is just insufficient to keep up with everyone I'd even like to keep up with.

    • You make a fair point – being forced to restrict your words definitely can be beneficial. I guess it’s like eating your greens, I understand the benefits but I still don’t like it!

      I feel guilty because I tend to stick to reading the Flash Fiction of writer’s that I know I’ve enjoyed in the past. Means I’m nearly always satisfied but then I think of all the wonderful, exciting new stuff that’s just passing me by.

      • Yes I always feel like I’m playing catch up when it comes to flash. There is just so much of it to read! I wish I could read more, but alas, time is a limited resource.

        I quite like writing it though (I do enjoy my vegetables and greens). It’s a bit of instant gratification. Flash doesn’t take too much investment to write, you can experiment without too much commitment, and you can get a response (and see if it worked) quite quickly. If only it the same could be said for a novel 🙂 I foresee begging for beta readers on that end LOL.

  8. If your novel is anywhere near as good as your flash (and serial) then I’d happily give it a read for you (and grumble about not having enough time to do things)!

    • Oh, you may come to regret that offer hehe 🙂 I hope it’s up to the same quality, but I’m just beginning on revisions and it will be months until it’s ready. Hopefully you will have more free time then, and I will be in touch. Thanks David!


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