David de Beer was born in the year of Star Wars, called the Year of the Fire Serpent by some, 1977 by others. It was June 14, and probably very hot. He lives in Johannesburg, South Africa, and has had fiction appear in Alienskin, Nocturnal Ooze, Chizine, Flash me magazines and forthcoming in Shadowed Realms.
Visit David's blog and LiveJournal
Read David's lastest publication at Chizine: The Man Who Eats Angels. This is a gut-churner for sure, not for the faint-of-heart.
I asked David to describe Flash Fiction for me because he's been involved in the at a discussion level with several editors on the nature of flash fiction. What he's learned, I hope he'll pass on here.
Marva: Hi David. Thanks for stopping in to give my readers some insight into Flash Fiction. Since you've been studying the situation, first can you recommend some sites that feature flash fiction?
David: Ok, here are some good flash venues to keep track of, you'll see they each have a slightly different approach to flash:
From the Asylum
Abyss & Apex
Of those, Shadowed Realms, Abyss & Apex, From the Asylum and Alienksin, have more of a preference to a linear standard story, the short-short in other words. Along with Flash me, they also have the longest word counts. Vestal and Raven have the shortest word counts and more of a preference for highly suggestive stories, rather than ones spelled out straight. You have to do get the same effect - complete story - in less space, so the writer needs to rely a great deal more on the reader being able to interpret his/ her writing. With flash, it isn't always what's said, but rather what 's not said, what is implied, that is the important part.
So, it's like poetry where you have to read between the lines as well.
Marva: How about using sites such as Duotrope and Ralan's to find venues?
David: I'd certainly recommend both and especially Duotrope for its search features. You can just ask for a list of publishers that take flash fiction. Duotrope has different categories, such as the short-short, and the drabble. You still need to specify which genre specifically you want, or you can just ask for "All" genres, and you get the whole list of markets open to shorter forms of writing. I don't use Ralan much, so I'm not sure about that site.
Marva: The BIG question. What is flash?
David: It's important to remember different people will likely give different interpretations, and I'm still new at this as well, so I'm no expert. But I did ask around, and all the editors pretty much said flash is word count. Now that differs from venue to venue, 1000, or 500, or 400. The cut-off mark was set at 2000, too long, in my opinion. I prefer a 1000 max.
People often abuse the notion of flash to mean vague mutterings, and hintings. What flash is not, is scenes from a hat (or a moment in the life of a person), or an atmospheric description of a scene. Unless that one scene is capable of suggesting an entire story, and fully fleshed characters.
It's flash FICTION - which means that the same rules apply - a definite story with a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Now, personal tastes dictate whether there is/is not resolution, and whether there is closure or the ending is open-ended.
But, like all stories, flash needs to suggest fully-realized characters, inhabiting a fully realized world.
The trick lies in the suggestions, the inferences that can be made. And that's also important regarding details/ lack of details - if the details can be inferred, then you don't need to explain them. If the lack of details lead to confusion, you've made a mistake and
need to re-address.
That last part - about lack of details that DO need to be elaborated on - is important. Flash is also not to be taken as a medium for writers who don't feel they have to do the work and provide only thumbnail sketches instead of full stories. Flash; short story; novel - they all require work, and a lot of background detail that never make it onto the page, but are crucial for the story to work. Flash doesn't have less detail in the prose, only less details explicitly spelled out. It doesn't take away the responsibility from the writer for telling a good tale, it's not the lazy writer's quickie.
Flash is, as its name says, a brief bang.
Novels are a journey, lasting over an extended period. Shorts are a thought, an idea explored and moved. Flash is a moment, a quick flash effect of emotion. An impulse, if you will. The Big Bang that contains an entire universe of matter within a small space.
Marva: I originally asked you a question on a crit you did on my work and you were good enough to go into a little more depth on flash. Do people want too much explained in a flash?
David: Hm yeah, to be honest, sometimes I wonder if that's not just a critter syndrome, like they feel they have to say something but they don't know what and then get overly anal about it. On the other hand, people who complain about flash, usually complain about shorts' lack of detail as well. It's a hard one. There's a lot more that has to be inferred from a flash piece, and much less is explicitly spelled out. A good rule of thumb in any writing, IMO, but crucial to flash writing. Of course, sometimes the story is just short. But it still needs to be a story, that's the bottom line, at least for me. Other people may feel different. It's a matter of reader preference of course; some readers want everything neatly tied up and clear, others enjoy putting the story together. There's no space in flash to explain events, you can only trust that you did enough for readers to draw the correct inference. But, much like poetry, that meaning can be subtly different from reader to reader. With flash, more than my other writing, I enjoy seeing how my critique group interpret the writing. It's interesting to view the broad similarities - which I view as a successful piece, i.e. they get what I was trying to say - but also the subtle differences, which is where the unique reader's take on a story comes from. They interpret based on their own frameworks of reference and that's fascinating to see, almost like an interactive form of writing.
Marva: What do you think is the most important thing to tell the author of a flash when you're critting?
David: The suggestions I've made, regarding cutting and re-phrasing, are suggestions that can also be used in all modes of fiction. There's no reason to write something longer than it has to be. Flash is wonderful for learning to write the maximum impact with the minimal words. What's excessive, can be cut. What's implied (e.g., 'he stood up,' can be 'he stood,' since standing usually implies movement in an upwards direction), what's implied does not need to be spelled out.
Mostly, I look for the sense of a complete story, that hard to define and obscure "impression" of a tale fully told. Now, you can use a moment to suggest an entire life, but it's hard to pull off.
By its nature, flash is the ultimate contra to telling, it has to be shown. Telling, as opposed to showing, takes too long, stretches the moment, and dampens the effect you could have achieved with flash.
Over time, the more you do it, the better you'll be able to realize when your story is a flash, a short, novella or novel. Sometimes a story needs to be expanded, sometimes to be hauled back in and tightened. There's no checklist for that, it works or it doesn't. Your readers will tell you, when they are satisfied that they have read a fully realized story, you've done your job, no matter what length or medium.
Ok, I'm going to stop here, otherwise it gets too confusing.
Marva: David, thanks for allowing me to post your concepts on flash. To me, they help a lot. One more thing. What about the MAM awards? When are you selecting the winners?
David: Ah, yes, the MAM's. The winners will be announced either in December or January, with nominations announced through the year.
The MAM's, or Martian Approved Marshmallows, will take some time to explain. You see, I'm a junior member of the Terran Diplomatic Corps for Intergalactic Relations, and we've been in close dealing with the Martians for some time. That should be little surprise to many people, nor the fact that the Martians are obviously no longer on Mars. They moved - to the Alpha-Gwham-Kwallahakipoyosidelksi-Lafleur system, where they occupy the planet, Button-Ten.
The Martians are very curious about earth society, especially earth women, and literature as well of course. Now, what we do is to try and send them as many representative samples of earth writing as we can, but the TwixStar bandwidth is very limited and needs to be used for so many different things, that we were forced to make choices. Erotica, for instance, occupies about 65% of the bandwidth allocated to literature, and Westerns another 20%. Martians love cowboys. They're not too fond of Dan Brown, though. Well, that doesn't leave much for the other genres, and I'm also the only member of the Corps who reads SF, Fantasy and Horror. The job of selecting some of the best in contemporary samples fell to me by default, I'm afraid, not based on any degree of skill or proven good taste.
I'm only one person, and there's only so much I can read and, like I said, I have the least space of anyone. So, what I'll be doing all year is to compile a shortlist - the "nominations" - that I feel will be representative of decent spec fic reads, and at the end of the year, I'll announce the "winners", which is of course the stories - or marshmallows, as the Martians call them - that will be sent off to the Martians.
I'll be making my selections based upon the various short fiction magazines and such novels as I do read throughout the year.
The "winners" will receive cyber-smileys and the warm glow in the heart of doing a good deed.
And that's the story behind the Mam's, but mum's the word, so don't spread it around.