Monday, July 11, 2016

ASK THE EDITOR: Question About the Definition of Flash Fiction

RaenaEnchant asked: Can flash fiction be individual stories in a series, using the same characters and setting?

ANSWER:  Sure!  Maybe.  Depends.

Flash fiction is a complete story in a few words.  For my definition, go here: What Is Flash Fiction?

Specific to Flash Fiction Online, flash fiction is a complete story--characters, setting, conflict, resolution--of between 500 and 1000 words.

To put this question in context, Raena is working on a project--a series of short segments that she can eventually compile into a larger piece.

THE most successful example of this sort of thing is, in my opinon, Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine.  One of my personal favorite books of all time, Dandelion Wine is, as most of Bradbury's work, a compilation of short stories.  But Dandelion Wine is unique in that Bradbury compiled a series of stand-alone stories, adding interludes and additional segments to give it a story-like flow from beginning to end.

To be fair, however, Dandelion Wine is a novel without a strong central plot, conflict, or resolution--though each individual story has plenty of such.

So the answer to the question is, "SURE!  IF each 'segment' can stand on its own."

A Scene is not the same thing as a Story.  A Scene has a function within a Story.  It is used to develop conflict in order to move the plot along or to develop scenery or characterization.  A Story contains Scenes that can be placed on the plotline of the story like popcorn kernels on a string at Christmastime.  Scenes are not usually independent of the overarching plotline.  The information within them often depends on knowing information from other Scenes.  And the STORY depends on all those pieces of information fitting together to form a complete and satisfying picture when the Story is complete.

If too much of each 'segment' relies on information present in other 'segments' of the larger story, it's not flash, it's a scene.  If your 'segment' relies too much on knowledge of BIG ideas--like governments, unique worlds, unique religions, civilizations, or technical ideas--it probably won't work as flash.

If too much of your 'segment' is spent explaining the missing information, it may BE flash, but it probably won't work WELL as flash.

A good flash story will be visually broken--very few large blocky paragraphs of information, plenty of dialogue and thoughtfully-paragraphed action.  I can often tell just by looking at the lines of narrative on the page how much I'm going to like it.  I groan (and NOT inwardly) when I open a story and it is a single paragraph.  Flash is dynamic, not static, and the way the words look on the page should reflect that.  The way each paragraph is constructed, the way information is revealed, the way characters are introduced, the way the reader is drawn into the story from the very first sentence, should reflect that.

If it's not flash, then, what is it?  Scenes.  Just scenes.  Put them all together and write a novel, keeping in mind that the disciplined study of flash can help make you a better novelist!

Oh, and read Dandelion Wine.  Figure out how Bradbury did it.  Try to identify the scenes that were added later to form the glue between the independent stories.  Very much worth your time.

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