Nicola Morgan, author and proprietor of the helpineedapublisher blog has a flash fiction competition over at her Wasted blog (in support of her new book). Fifty words or less; about Fate, Chance or Luck. Go enter. In a fit of bravado and, well, more bravado I dashed off a short story within the above requirements and sent it in. Part of me wishes I hadn't. I am, frankly, terrified that I have done a very bad job indeed, such was my haste and impetuous impetuosity. At least I get another two chances to redeem myself, although how I will do this I do not know.
I like flash fiction. I like the restrictive nature of it, particularly where the smaller word count constraints are concerned. As you may know, I have a tendency to less than sparse with my prose, so anything like this is a refreshing chance to write in a very different way. There are dozens, tens of dozens of flash fiction competitions out there, from the heady heights of the Bridport Prize to the those run by enthusiasts and clubs and authors and they produce very good work indeed.
Flash fiction is very much like another favourite form of mine; haiku. I love haiku with all my being and enjoy writing it immensely, the 14 syllable restriction of the form I use forcing me to concentrate and craft with as much skill and emotion as I can bring to bear. Haiku, like flash fiction, by the very nature of its restrictive metric nature has to emote or imply more than that which is contained within the words. A good haiku poem can reach into anyone and build within them, from their own experiences and emotions, a context to surround the poem, amplifying and increasing the impact of the words used.
Basho and Buson are considered at the eptiome of haiku writing, the sheer poetry and mastery of their art coming through in the exquisite use of imagery and emotion to describe an idea, a place or emotion. There is a further skill here at play too, in the ability of the translator to capture this detail, successfully evoking the intent of the original in a completely different language, mindset and culture. Years ago Penguin published the Penguin 60's collection, a series of small 'cut-down' classics, including a trimmed down version of Basho's 'On Love and Barley'. I carry this everywhere with me.
Perhaps my favourite haiku poem is Basho's last, written just before his death:
Sick on a journey -
over parched fields
dreams wander on.
For me this poem, amongst many others, reaches the epitome of the haiku artform, carrying with it more than just the words written. It touches something inside, and yet manages to retain the ideas of mortality within the natural world.
Flash fiction, like the above, is a self contained restricted form that manages to be much more. It is more than the story, containing within it implications without the bounds of the tale, as well as the endings and beginnings of other stories. It takes its place in the flow of a world of stories, a brief snapshot of something small within a greater whole.
It requires effective and skilled writing, an excellent mind's eye and a willingness to pare down a story to its simplest form, without necessarily losing the complexity of its intent. Just trying can lead to being a better writer and there is nothing wrong with that.
So, with that in mind, attempt number two will be crafted tonight. I will not feel any less sick when I send it in, but I will have a more considered, thoughtful go.