In one of my writing groups a few months ago, we were going over some of my flash fiction stories. One woman said that she didn’t get them, she didn’t see things like plot or character development. I wasn’t offended – over the years in all of my writing groups I’ve read a lot of things I didn’t get – different people like different things, but something kept nagging at me.
A few years ago I was dating a woman who wanted to get into writing. One day at a bookstore I saw a magazine I thought might take her style of stories. I had never submitted anything to it because I write mostly science fiction and they only took literary fiction. So I bought it and gave it to her. A couple of days later she called to tell me that she had read every story in it and loved them all and couldn’t wait to submit a story. The next time I visited, I borrowed the magazine and read it. I hated every “story” in it. I say “story” because they were just words. I detected no plot, no character development, no meaning. I wanted to shake the “authors” and yell at them, “A lovely flow of words does not a story make.”
That’s what was nagging me. Were no plot stories wrong, except when I do it? It took some thought, but I finally managed to justify myself out of this dilemma.
Over the years I’ve read a lot of short science fiction stories in magazines and anthologies. A lot of them I haven’t liked. For example, while I was thinking about this situation, I read a novella that really bothered me. Basically, this not so nice guy manages to go on a journey. Something unexpected happens and he is put in a situation where he learns things about the world and himself. Oh, and he gets the girl too. Part of why I didn’t like this story was because some of the elements were just too far-fetched for my taste. To be fair, I’m sure some like those elements, but I’m not one of those people. But the main reason I didn’t like it was – as far as I could tell – there wasn’t a point to it. The only meanings I could gather from it were “Don’t lie” and “Live each day as if it’s your last.”
I’m not saying every story has to be life altering, but if you’re reading thousands upon thousands of words, there needs to be something. A fascinating character, an interesting twist, a life altering insight. I got none of those from the story. (I did however get a template for stories I don’t like.)
Now, what does that have to do with my flash fiction? I don’t waste your time. I guess my flash fiction is more an expanded thought than a traditional story. I come up with ideas I find very interesting, but instead of writing a tome exploring the minutiae, I prefer just putting that idea out there. It’s like I tell my readers, “This is something you’ve probably not thought of before, what do you think?” What rights should clones have? (“Our Brothers and Sisters”) What will our effect on the galaxy be? (“Humanity’s Future?”) Is space exploration worth it? (“Flight Into History”) Of course given my mischievous nature, a lot of my stories could be called extended punch lines. (“A Liter of Puppies,” “Awkward,” “Of Course,” etc.)
So that’s the point of my flash fiction. I’m not taking you on a journey of discovery and adventure, I’m just giving you a laugh and something to think about.