What makes for successful micro and flash fiction?

24 Jun

While I slow-walk my blog duties, here’s a great article on the magic of compression in short fiction.

After a taxing couple of weeks of training for a part-time position I’m starting in August, yep, I’m stalling on last week’s promise to review Penny Guisinger’s chapbook Postcards from Here. I’ll revive Fiction Friday next week. Instead I aimed my shrunken brain at some of my favorite websites in search of something worth sharing, and Lit Hub delivered.

Olivia Clare argues that compression is a great tool for creating momentum in a short story, and I agree—it’s no surprise I love the same three short story writers named in the piece as masters of compression, Welty, Paley, and Hempel. From my perch as a fan in particular of micro and flash fiction, I read the appeal to distillation as not just a suggestion but an imperative. And I appreciate the insight that the powerful punch I consider the mark of successful very short fiction is probably achieved not so much because the author landed on the one right plot line or imagery or ending (there are always myriad good choices) but via the breakneck speed of an entire well-crafted piece—maximum momentum, you might say.

My favorite part of the article is Ms. Clare’s remark that not all readers appreciate compression:

The impatient reader—impatient for backstory, for full explanation and character motivation—will not be satisfied. Hempel is for the reader who is willing to embrace unknowns. When was the speaker’s friend in “In the Cemetery” diagnosed? How old was she? How did she feel when diagnosed? Does she have more friends? A love life? These are questions some fiction workshops would urge the story’s writer to answer and unpack.

The more you write micros and flashes, the more some of your reader friends will urge you to fill the gaps you intentionally left. Sometimes, of course, they’re right. But often they’re just not the readers you’re looking for. I needed this reminder that compression is not just an art but also a chosen, preferred style. Some don’t enjoy it, even when executed by a master. If you’d say no to Grace Paley—and, inexplicably, many do!—then I don’t have a chance. Thank you and excuse me, I’m going to try that side of the room….

If you’re trying your hand at short fiction and especially if you’re thinking of going very short, this one’s a useful read.

Back soon with a Market Monday and then that promised Fiction Friday review. Happy compressing!

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