When they hear about flash fiction—I'm going to go with "under 1,000 words" as a definition, though many people set the bar even
I would have agreed with them a few years ago. Back in 2012, my New Year's writing goal was to learn to write shorter stories. I'd completed two novels at this point, and the few short stories I'd written clocked in at around nine or ten thousand words a piece. And every time I turned a "short" story in to my critique group, they invariably said it read like the opening chapter of a novel.
I needed to learn to be more concise if I wanted to start selling stories, so I started studying the craft and reading the shortest stories I could find—especially flash, which seemed as unattainable as a unicorn back then.
When I was a kid I owned a collection of "short short stories," which I guess would be called flash fiction today. I remember enjoying the anthology, but ultimately feeling that many, if not most, of the stories were set-ups for punny endings. I could appreciate that in the moment, but that's not what I'm mainly looking for as a reader, and not really my speed as a writer. The stories that stick with me are the ones that pack a wallop. I read to experience emotions—and generally different ones than "amusement." That's not a slight on people who look for different things in their fiction; it's just what I'm about.
So until I started seeking out flash fiction again a couple years ago, I didn't realize stories this short could suck the breath from my lungs, bring a tear to my eye, and/or put a great big smile on my face.
And that's a kind of magic, isn't it?
Seriously, though. I get a bit of awe just thinking about it: Make me feel something. You've got four minutes of my time. Go. That's godlike power right there, if you can pull it off.
That's a hell of a hit for an emotion-junkie like me. As a reader, I'm eating it up. As a writer, I want to learn to harness that type of power.
And that's why.
José Iriarte is a Cuban-American writer and high school math teacher living in EPCOT Center with his wife Lisa and their two teenage kids. He writes because he can't afford therapy, and he blogs (infrequently) at Labyrinth Rat.