Instead of scouring over the Metro
or whatever paper it happens to be, we should instead have flash fiction pamphlets distributed at our Tube and bus stops- with story lengths capped at 800 words.
Flash Fiction, ordinarily seen as self-contained pieces under 100 words,provides the ultimate source of escapism for minds weary of a flash-paced society with its hurling commuter runs through our towns and cities. It is far more rewarding than reading about the latest football controversy or political scandal or celebrity gossip. We are too entrenched in a routine of plunging into the world of celebrity and dramatized 'reality' via our 'top news stories'.
Instead, for those few bus, tram or train stops we take on the treadmill of our humdrum lives we could instead go anywhere. That's right, anywhere. For the human imagination can soar with the smallest of literary triggers, the tidiest of tidbits, and the most evanescent of little flashes in the pan. Flash provides this.
And this is why Flash is great. It is entirely suited to our modern needs of instant gratification..We are impatient. Ready to click for the next information fix and ready to flick the page of anything which doesn't hold. In the brilliant book The Shallows Nicholas Carr tells of modern man's ever-changing synapses unable to resist the need to click for a new fix. The desire for instant gratification is all-consuming. Whilst Carr bemoans this impulse as lessening man's ability to think deeply over abstract topics, a more optimistic approach can be spun . For this need for instant gratification can still be moulded into great bits of fiction-it just need to gratify the reader at once, giving him or her sufficient reason to stay with it for its course.
Flash understands our need for speed. Any torrent of verbiage would likely hold no sway with busy commuters. But, then, Flash wastes no words in telling its story; it lives or dies by the instant compulsion of its telling. Flash Fiction is like the newspaper headline of the literary world, with a bit of caption thrown in too. It has a hook-something screenwriters know about all too well. If you can't hook your audience within the first five pages- which in a screenplay tends to only a few hundred words of text-you're going to the bottom of the slush pile. That's why we start so many films with car crashes and murders and then once we've hooked you, we let the explanations come later.
Well it's the same in Flash. In fact, Flash is the hook. There's nothing more to come. With Flash you just fill in the rest of the story for yourself, either what came before or what comes after- using the oh-so-rewarding magic of interpretive imagination.
With this is mind, here's a piece of Flash fiction I wrote last year-coming in at a measly 308 words; it's called 30 Seconds.
30 seconds. That's how long he feared and hoped it would take to die.
It might be instant. It might not. It might take a few minutes or even half an hour.
He hoped it was peaceful, like drowning might or might not be. He hoped it swallowed and didn't nibble.
He hoped it was a Great White.
The fin snorkelled; then submerged.
John used to say he thought they were soothing; sharks. But they have teeth instead of brains.
Better to be in jail and safe than out in the ocean and stalked by teeth.
It would no doubt head-butt him for its aperitif. Wonder why this mutated form of fish had kicking limbs and denim scales. Why this was this first fish it ate that sang a protest song
It might jump out the water with him in its mouth. It might slap him in the air with its tail. Or bite off his head. Or just his forearm.
He might be able to make a tourniquet from his clothes. Probably not.
It's the shark you don't see which gets you. So if it stays on the surface. But it keeps submerging.
It's a bad way to go.
The fin, was it a great white, a bull, a mako, a hammerhead? approached full throttle and sank again.
He almost chuckled. He drew his knees in, his left hook ready and his southpaw jab skimmed the surface.
Punch them on their noses he remembers as the cruellest joke in Christendom and isn't convinced a shark has a nose not that water is the best element to throw a haymaker in.
Perhaps it's true; you float away when a shark gets you. You just drift away from the scene of your being eaten.
Had the shark been on land, beached up or in a soup.
It circled again. Sunk.
His legs were yanked and he plunged into the deep.
National Flash Fiction Day UK is on the 21 June and is currently accepting entries for their anthology.