Author Marc Nash approached me a few days ago to see what I knew about Flash Fiction… answer very little. So he’s written a must read article for all authors interested in Flash Fiction and he’s also given us a taster of what he can do – don’t forget you can interact and leave comments below.
I’ve just published my fourth collection of flash fiction stories “28 Far Cries”. If you don’t know what flash fiction is, it’s the shortest form of fiction, ranging from 6 word stories to 1000 words. There’s no agreed definition of length, but 1000 words is generally felt to be the upper limit for flash, otherwise you’re straying into short story territory.
But flash fiction is so much more than a word limit. It actually offers the greatest freedom to writers, because you simply don’t have the words to play with to achieve many of the standard things of story such as introduction, character or setting description and the like. Your opening sentence plunges the reader into your story, as with any longer work, but only in flash does that first sentence have to bear the weight of establishing the world of your story. Word choices are important in flash, because again you do have the room to waste words. And the English language is wonderfully set up to offer you plenty of choice in order to find the exact word that can simultaneously carry different shades of meaning that give your story layers. Words like ‘cleave’ and ‘fast’ which have entirely opposite meanings and the skilful flash writer can imply both together!
But flash isn’t only about language. It offers a liberation for the author of the classic structure of a beginning, middle and end. I’ve written stories that are all about endings. I’ve written stories without any human character, so that these are more like a landscape painting (flash often employs quite lyrical language, where it could almost be seen as a prose poem). I’ve written a story made up of 100 single word sentences, all beginning with the letter ‘C’. In my latest collection, there is a story where one letter in every word has mutated into another, changing the word and therefore the meaning of the piece. Flash therefore represents many different ways of telling a story.
Although a tight word limit might seem to offer only sketches, actually the opposite is possible. You can take a central image or metaphor and examine it from every angle, reflecting different interpretations just like the different facets of a gemstone as the light strikes it in different ways and at different angles. So in the present collection, I have a story “Off Colour” about all the colours we use in every day speech, or another “Nocebo” which explores all the different ways of taking pills and concludes with the ultimate, that of a cyanide pill. In “Nemesis” an ageing superhero develops cancer from the radiation which gave him his superpowers and the story compares the cancer with the nature of his crime fighting.
Flash fiction has really come to the fore in the internet age. Its length is akin to a blog post. It’s easy to read on phones and other portable devices. It’s easy to do a YouTube reading of a story that lasts no more than five minutes and they are great for reading live as against an extract of a novel that needs a lot of explaining the story up to that point. And most importantly perhaps, it’s a really good way of flexing your writing muscles, especially when in between longer projects or if you’re feeling blocked. There are plenty of online communities with prompts such as photos or words to get you going.
And here is a great piece of Flash Fiction from Marc himself:
My superpowers were ineffectual in the face of this particular adversary. Even though our potency derived from the same source, mine ultimately proved the inferior. I might be able to crush solid steel with my bare hands, but my foe could render me prostrate with an invisible motion.
Little did I know, that when I felt the swell of energy through my body as my uncanny physiology unfolded its transformation, a parallel transformative surge was happening too. As my sinew rippled and expanded to fill my costume, so my cells divided and thickened beneath. As my mitochondrial DNA fuelled my malignancy-fighting bursts, so they also unwittingly stoked a corruption of their own inside my body. A metastasis within Megalopolis.
Having been exposed to gamma waves in childhood, inevitably I was immune to radiotherapy. It baffled the oncologists, but at least they didn’t twig my identity. The chemotherapy was supposed to target the carcinomas just as precisely I’d excised villains. The magic bullet which I myself supposedly represented as the cure for the pathology out on our streets. But like the street antagonists I faced, remove one and three more grow back in their place. In the parlance of myth, we might have said like a many-headed hydra. In the clinical jargon of now, we cannot escape the fact of its tumefaction.
Luckily the hood of my cape covered up the ensuing baldness from the treatment. But the clumps of hair I had to remove from inside each time I divested myself of my costume, reinforced my reversion to mortality at the end of every mission.
Exposure to radiation turns the super-villain’s minds, sends them insane with their power. Allied to their innate malevolence which sees them looking to flout law and authority. With me the process has been slower, far more perniciously indirect. The creeping realisation of the price I have paid with my body divided against itself, has tipped me over the edge. The super-villain never felt any pain, except when I slapped the handcuffs on him. There was no slow erosion of the person they once were. My pain is doubled, the tumescent physical spasms augmented by the leeching away of my inviolability.
The felons simply regarded that they had to dislodge me as an impediment to the wholesale advancement of evil. They could not in all bad conscience see themselves as villainous if I, as a force for good, was allowed to prevail. They could not possibly live and operate as super-villains, if a super-hero was still poised against them. That made them heedless of danger for they did not care if they died, so long as they perished in the act of trying to vanquish me. And that ratcheted up the level of their degradation, made them capable of the most dire outrages.
So what did I achieve? I provided my citizens with the briefest of short-lived remissions. Before the pathology reared up again, more virulent and resistant to any relief I might provide. A superhero is supposed to provide protection, to keep death at bay, yet ultimately I’m unable to achieve either. A superhero can’t be killed, but he can still die. Undermined and overwhelmed by his own frailties. Harking back to the Greek origin of the term ‘hero’. Someone displaying the hubris to imagine they could rise up above the human throng, always to be brought crashing back down by the nagging apprehension that their life is no more elevated than anybody else’s. Narcissus is the more pertinent myth, only the pool that we gaze upon our reflection, turns out to be a mirage.
You can find Marc Nash here: