As a novelist (mostly), I come to short stories a bit cautious, a bit weary. After a few years of attempts, I’m warming up to them. Which means that I come to flash fiction somewhere between mildly perplexed and scared shitless. The form, though, is a good counterweight to my own tendency toward verbosity (see?), not to mention a healthy taste of my own medicine for a guy who won’t let even his best students write essays over 700 words long (usually 500 words) because he thinks they can’t be trusted with that many.
All this is to say I’ve been trying my hand at flash fiction, and mostly, failing miserably. I always try to squeeze in too much. Have trouble finding the telling gesture that can replace my paragraph with a few well chosen words. I’ve decided flash fiction is the golf of the writing world–the form that has the biggest discrepancy between how hard it looks and how hard it actually is.
It’s like this.
You read a piece like Amy Hempel’s “San Francisco,” which is marvelous, but over so quickly you sort of don’t know what just happened to you. You wonder if it was as massive as it seemed. So you read it again. Nope, you think, still not sure. Then you read it a third time. And that’s when the story really starts to go to work on you. And yet, it’s so short! It can’t be that good and be so short too. Can it?
So you sit down and try to write a piece like Amy Hempel’s “San Francisco,” capping your story at a page and a half, and that’s when the full weight of her abilities sucker punches you in the gut.
This just in: writing is really hard.