Ah, flash fiction—or, if you prefer, micro-fiction, short-shorts, prose poems. Or, if you're a little skeptical of the whole genre, "writing exercises." The practice has existed longer than our short-term cultural memory reaches back, and it has spawned publications, websites and brands, like Smithmagazine's Six-Word Memoir. And as of right now, this svelte form has been given its own day. May 16 (or "16 May," in deference to our friends across the pond) is National Flash-Fiction Day. Don't worry, you didn't forget. You didn't know about it because this is the first year for the UK-based event.
Here's what the organizers have to say about this new holiday: “[I]n recent years, with the growth of the internet, more people reading on e-Readers and mobile phones, and the sheer pace of life, the very short story has taken on a life of its own. And we now think this is a life worth celebrating.”
No reason not to dedicate a day to these little nuggets, some of which can be quite inspired. Hell, compared with Twitter, flash fiction can come off like War and Peace. But herein lies the danger of championing flash fiction as a genre. There's much to be said for writing an evocative, arresting short scene, but giving readers a reason to remain interested in your words—dare I say, committed to them—requires a bit more endurance and, frankly, talent.
To me, there's a big difference between being a good writer and a good storyteller. Good writers know how to string together words properly. It is the storyteller that synthesizes the many moving parts of a long-form story or novel and brings into focus areas of our own lives that we didn't realize were out of focus. Great micro-fiction might spark some such sensation, but it doesn't last long enough to ignite.
It is de rigueur to bemoan the lack of time we have in this culture of instant gratification and info-ADD. While I would never dream of thwarting another person's creative release, I do think we should classify these short offerings as a component of a serious storyteller's tool kit, albeit an important component. If we are to rally behind these groupings of a few hundred words, let's encourage them to be used as building blocks that can be incorporated into something larger, more sturdy and lasting: a story we can get lost in and be challenged by.
Yeah, yeah, I know, the definition of a “short story” is up for grabs and plenty of people will want to call me out for being cursory. There are plenty of flash fictions that tell stories in which dramatic tension is introduced and resolved. They can be creative, fun and sometimes even memorable. But think of it like this: Would you rather spend the rest of your life eating nothing but cotton candy or three square meals per day?
So on this micro-auspicious day, go out and flash yourself silly (but don't blame me if you get arrested). And on May 17, get back to work.