This month, we had the pleasure of talking with Gay Degani, who is an internationally recognised writer of flash fiction and the editor of Flash Fiction Chronicles for Every Day Fiction. She blogs at Words in Place. We asked Gay five questions about the nuts and bolts of writing flash.
FF: Flash fiction has many different definitions, from Hemingway’s “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” to a definition framed mainly by word count (such as <1000 words). What, in your opinion, defines flash fiction?
GD: Flash fiction is to traditional short stories what lightning is to a storm. That to me is the best definition of flash fiction. And if no one has said this before, I want the credit!! But I’m pretty sure that’s where the name came from.
Thunder, rain, sleet, wind and lightning are all part of the excitement of a full blown nor’easter or afternoon thunderstorm. The rush of hard rain opens our eyes; its steady drum on the roof soothes us until that first roll of thunder raises our pulse; lightning makes us anticipate and 1 2 3 count. Then rain again and we wait for another loud crack, more electrical fireworks, the clouds to clear, the skies to blue. A good storm is filled with promise, surprise, fear, suspense, relief, joy, and sometimes sadness. So is a good story.
We experience fiction as we do storms with all their noise and fury. However, flash fiction is more like watching a jag of lightning split the sky to reveal a few seconds of landscape in a larger world. In the span of 1000, 500, 50 words, flash gives us a crucial moment in a larger, less-defined or “suggested” story.
Flash focuses on the “crux” of interplay between two characters, or one character and nature, or one character and self, when life is illuminated for the briefest of seconds. Flash creates a “close-up” on that moment when a “balance of being” shifts, even if it shifts ever so slightly.
Getting into it
FF: When you read a flash fiction story, what is the first indication that it’s a great one?
GD: An opening sentence that promises to intrigue, seduce and deliver the goods. A voice that engages me instantly and then something about the content — appearing almost immediately through voice, setting, circumstance, dialogue, language — that promises the story will be fresh and new and that the writer knows what he or she is doing. I want to feel I won’t be let down, that I am embarking on an experience, large or small, that will surprise and intrigue me; that I will not be thrown any curves that make no sense.
FF: What is the single most important tip for someone aspiring to write excellent flash fiction?
GD: The admonition is probably different for every part of each writer’s journey, but for those just starting out, I’d say, “Don’t fall in love with your language until you’ve determined what it is your subconscious is telling you”. Too often we worry about every line when we’re new, not able to move on until each sentence sparkles. This often kills the initial impulse to write the story. My advice is to get the idea down, then take a look at what you have. Ask yourself who your character is, what does she value, what does she want and what stands in her way. There’s a magic thing happening inside you, the creation of a story. Listen to that voice or follow that thought as far as it leads you. Once you have content — the meat of the story — you will be able to figure out your scenes, what can happen to show the reader who she is and what she reveals about our humanity, and then it will be time to write those sparkling sentences.
FF: Flash Fiction seems to resonate with the current Zeitgeist. Why do you think this is?
GD: Stories have always given us a life experience without having to live through that experience. However, as society speeds up, we seem to have less and less time to sit down and read. I have always read voraciously, but I struggle to find time to read books. There is always something else I should be doing, something that gets results. Yet I long for the feeling of being part of another world that reading gives us.
GD: This is really tough. I could probably list at least 100 stories by 100 different writers, but here are a couple I thought of when I was answering the second question. These have stuck to me.
Bulletproof by Divya Raghavan because of voice.
Thank you, Gay Degani, for this flash fiction interview.
For March’s stories inspired by shades of grey, go here.
Thank you so much for this interview, Michelle. You really made me think and I love that. Great questions.
Thank you, Gay, for this wonderful interview. Your definition of flash fiction is the most concise – and the loveliest – I’ve ever encountered. I hit the bookmark button before I finished reading!
Gay, great advice for writers of all levels! “The greatness” indicators make a nice checklist to hang at my computer. Thanks for sharing!
Great interview, ladies. Thanks for sharing.
Fabulous interview – Inspiring and deeply informative – I just learned more here than I have during the past six months of randomly flailing about hoping to capture lightning in a bottle. Thank you so much!
Your first answer is downright poetic, Gay. Do you write poetry, too? Beautiful!
Fabulous interview. Your definition of flash fiction deserves prominent placement in creative writing textbooks. And I love your picks at the end, I think I read all of them last week while digging around smokelong. Provocative question, Michelle. Peace…
Congrats on the interview! I liked it.
Your statement about just getting down your ideas is a good reminder. As the time I have available for writing becomes more squeezed, the only way I’ve been able to keep up with any kind of regular output has been to just get down my thoughts. I throw them on the page to return and revise on those days I have a few hours of luxury. Just getting down my thoughts has also helped when the next part of a story or a review stumps me. If I can throw down a few lines of dialog or a reaction, often I can figure out what next to say. Good point!