A Few Thoughts On Short Fiction

A little while ago I was asked, by the super-ace, Clare Conlon, if I could give her some thoughts on short fiction. So I did. And here’s her (rather splendid) article, at The Creative Times, which has a few of my words in it.

Anyway, I thought a few people here may be interested to see the whole thing I’d written. So here it is.

Feel free to disagree and to add your own thoughts. It’s hardly a definitive piece (and nor is it any attempt to define what a short, short story is or isn’t, because that’d be silly and have little point). As I said, I simply thought it may be of interest.

So here are a few of my thoughts:

I’ll be honest, I’m not a huge fan of the term ‘flash fiction’, for some reason it suggests, to me, that it’s something new and less significant than a proper short story (it’s almost apologetic), when it really, really isn’t. I prefer ‘short-short stories’ because that’s what they are. Kafka wrote them. Hemmingway wrote them. Chekov wrote them. Vonnegut wrote them. And that’s only naming a few, and that list goes to prove that they’re neither less significant than longer short stories or anything new.
To me, a story is as long as it is; it’s the writer’s job to find out what the story is and to tell it in the most appropriate and efficient way – be that long or short. A writer, in my opinion, should never be restricted by a form before the story’s written because then the story won’t develop naturally and be as good as it could, or should, be.
So, a story’s a story. Long or short doesn’t mean good or not as good. In this, the Digital Age, the shorter ones do have an opportunity to have a wider audience because they can be read between doing things, while commuting, while waiting for appointments or meetings – someone read one of mine while waiting at a set of traffic lights. And they can be mobile too – having something on your phone for instance (which is pretty much always with you) gives you the opportunity to read something without having to commit to bringing a book, or a number of books, out with you on the off-chance that you’ll fancy, and get chance to, read something from them. Convenience is a good thing!

12 Comments on “A Few Thoughts On Short Fiction

  1.  by  Kelly Railton

    Completely agree Nik. I used to feel ashamed of my 'short' short stories, thinking that they were in some way inferior to the rather longer stories of others. But I don't mind them being called Flash, for me it conjures up images of a superhero (even if he was rather undramatically called Gordon)…

  2.  by  Jenzarina

    Some good thoughts, Nik!I personally think one of the strengths of the short-short story/flash is the room to be experimental. I find (ironically) that the longer the story, the tighter the boundaries when it comes to new perspectives, structures or voice.

  3.  by  Rolli

    Used to do long short fic, strictly, but have been writing only flash for the last 6 months. It's great fun. A happy medium between poetry, which I also write, and fiction. It's unfortunate, only, that there are so few paying markets for flash. But its time will come, I'm sure – and soon.

  4.  by  Dan

    Liking the common sense approach to the nature of stories. Some folk do seem to equate length with quality when that is simply nonsense. I've had a few people I know read my shorter work and the only thing they can think to say afterwards is 'It's not very long is it.' Admittedly, they may not have liked the story, but, if the length is what jumps out at you as the most obvious point to comment on, to my mind at least, you're clearly not getting the idea of short-shorts.Nik, as ever, you talk a lot of sense.

  5.  by  angela

    Good points. I write longer stories and sometimes write shorter ones. There's a temptation sometimes to make the long ones flash, I think this is because of what you are saying, that flash lends itself to modern life and the net. But, sometimes long is best for that piece, sometimes short. There's an art form to either and its different. A good flash is like a poem in that it needs no more and is its own universe, with its own rules I think 🙂

  6.  by  Nik Perring

    Kelly – I'm glad you're not ashamed any more! Nothing to be ashamed of in the SLIGHTEST! A good story's a good story, no matter its length or what it's called!

  7.  by  Nik Perring

    Jen, yes, I think I'd agree. Though there's no reason why something longer *couldn't* be experimental, I think shorter things give us a little more freedom.

  8.  by  Nik Perring

    I know what you mean, Rolli – I think it's a respect thing. Or lack of it. Thing is, if (more) good people publish it then people will have the confidence to invest in it. And I think they will. People have bought my book, after all…

  9.  by  Nik Perring

    Thanks Dan. and you make good points too.I genuinely believe that all this defining of stuff should go straight out of the window. A story's a story and it should be told well. We shouldn't need any more than that.

  10.  by  Nik Perring

    Yep, I agree totally. I do think though, that story's ending up becoming what they are (if that makes sense!) and that, often, it's best to simply let that happen.I know I start to struggle when I start over-intellectualizing things! 🙂

  11.  by  broken biro

    I always think that, like with good poetry, good short fiction punches above it's weight, making each word work harder. For me the word 'flash' conjures up a sudden revelation or impact, so I quite like the term.Cliche of the day: 'Less is more'Thanks for making me think about it!

  12.  by  Nik Perring

    Hello Broken Biro!Yes, I agree – and I like the sudden revelation thing. What I would say is that not all pieces of short, short fic have that (they don't have to) and I think that's where my issues with the term stem from.Ultimately, I guess it doesn't matter what it's called as long as it's out there, available and being read!And less, is definitely a lot of the time, more! 🙂

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