confining a story
within the concrete walls of a hard word count
can emancipate it.
Flash fiction seems
a form wholly distinct from the short story,
more receptive to experiment.
It’s easier to risk
a miniature canvas
than a mural.
I imagine that most readers find flash fiction manageable, inviting. Almost anyone can take in three hundred, five hundred, one thousand words—a screen or two of text—in a single sitting, even granted the distraction that is our modern condition. Limiting length makes the task of writing a flash piece more approachable, too. Flash, however, demands more of the reader (and the writer) than at first appears. When every word counts, just as valuable as what’s written is what’s left unwritten. Flashes neither show nor tell as much as they hint. They flash: to arouse, yes, but also to coax
the reader into participating. You, the piece urges, pulling the reader on stage. Help me with this.
They’re strangers to one another, sharing a bus stop shelter. Beaming from the wall beside him, a bright advertisement for the Gap. Check out our new arrivals! Knits and khakis: your favorites with a twist!
Quietly, she sheds her coat and bares herself.
Even before he turns, he senses her misfit appearance. He’s a conventional man, accustomed to conventional beauty, wholesomeness and suburban chic, discomfited by the flamboyant, the awkward, the strange.
But he glances over, anyway.
He studies her.
He cannot look away.
Long after she’s covered up, boarded her bus, and ridden off, he’ll remain intrigued, smitten. He’ll trace and retrace what was revealed to him, the marks branded on her torso, the patches of translucent skin, the beating organ on the right side of her chest, and begin to sketch for himself the rough lines of her story.
Or maybe the writer sets out to establish a more traditional courtship, a tale in which a stalwart knight seeks the hand and heart of a lovely maiden. Her father sends him on a perilous quest that will prove the knight’s worth. Traveling far and wide, Knight survives grave dangers, overcomes intimidating obstacles, experiences poignant moments of growth. Ultimately, he returns in triumph. Maiden, however, appears unmoved. She cannot admit how she admires his courage and fortitude, appreciates his chivalric manner, thinks tenderly on the compassion he shows the peasants and the care he gives his hounds and steed. She dismisses Knight’s considerable achievements and declares his devotion false. For how can she otherwise avoid his bitter disgust and certain anger when the hues of her colorful past emerge? Perplexed and more than a bit miffed, Knight begins to doubt himself. He questions the suitability of the match, the very nature of love. An old scullery maid looks on as Knight shuffles away and Maiden begins to weep.
Is there time and space in a flash for happily ever after?
The gospel according to Luke: “To whom much is given, much will be required.”
The gospel according to the logician: Those who are given less enjoy greater license.
Can you compose a story
- entirely in bullet points?
- as a series of Facebook posts and comments?
- or as marginal n
otes on a student’s essay?
- store signs, catalog descriptions, or While You Were Out notes?
- bathroom graffiti?
In flash fiction, the preposterous seems plausible. In fewer words, but with wider range. While the elephant thunders, the sparrow takes wing.
Bryan Shawn Wang is grateful for his freedom. His flash fiction has appeared in places such as decomP, LITnIMAGE, Flash Fiction Online, Prime Number, Vestal Review and the anthology Sudden Flash Youth (Persea Books). He lives in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania with his wife and children. www.bryanshawnwang.