What’s the story here?
Flash fiction is commonly defined as a “story” of about 500 words. That’s a purely arbitrary limit, and it tends to be flexible. Only, it’s not a literary definition. Here’s an attempt at one for you:
- A story has a beginning (cause), middle (effect) and an ending (meaning). Or, if you want, you can say a story is like a sentence that has a subject, verb and object.
- Of course, every sentence has a verb, but not all have an object or even a subject. And that’s where flash fiction comes in; it may even be compared to a phrase rather than a sentence.
Flash fiction, then, is a tableau. In dramatic terms, it’s a one- or two-scene play. It’s not a story as such; it may have a beginning, middle or ending, but it rarely if ever has all three. Character development and plot complications are rare and next to impossible given the limitations of the genre.
As a result, flash fiction emphasizes symbolic situations, characters, and actions. In P. D. Morton’s “Justice,” Manuel is a symbolic character. What does he represent? The action and description are also symbolic. But of what? Just as a grammar book might ask you to complete a sentence, our first official Challenge is: What might be the “story” of Manuel?
- In Susan James’s “They Fly and They Float,” Paris Lee and her mother have a supernatural “talent”: they are in contact with spirits who desperately want to communicate with their loved ones, and it’s too much for them to handle. Our second official Challenge is: imagine the plot of a sequel where Paris Lee is a teen-ager or young adult. How might she and her mother deal compassionately with messages from the Undiscovered Country?
- Not a single reader had a clue what Toby Wallis’s model for “The Artificer” was. Now that you’re appropriately shocked and, of course, Bewildered, go back to the first installment and see if you can find any clue to the ending. City names don’t count. You may have more luck in installment 2. Our third official Challenge is: Where can one say “Here’s where we should’ve seen it coming”?
Please send us your ideas!
Copyright © 2004 by Bewildering Stories