Why I write flash fiction

My essay on why I write flash fiction is right here, reproduced below:

In defense of flash fiction

I write flash fiction because I believe it is the format that will dominate popular culture in the next twenty years. To ignore the leading literary form is to sideline yourself, not only from the general marketplace of ideas, but from publishing and professional advancement.

Let me begin by rejecting the idea of retrogradation. Intelligence and attention spans are no less acute today than they were in the days of Virgil, Chaucer or Twain. The salient fact that sets our society apart from the societies of the past is our ability to access and cross-reference information. Each of us now living has had a wider and more varied experience than even far-flung Odysseus. Verbal, visual and subtextual data streams represent a synergistic information map that enhances the richness and depth of our reading today in a way that would be incomprehensible to readers of the past. Context and societal framing allow us to communicate more with less.

The short story form has its origins in antiquity, arising from the oral traditions. Compilations of stories with an overarching theme were an accepted aspect of fiction, and were an outgrowth of extended storytelling sessions conducted by traveling bards and storytellers. Examples include Homer's Odyssey and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. The former was a collection of adventure vignettes, while the latter a more loosely associated anthology of adventure, humor, and romance. In antiquity, as in our own day, the form followed the needs and desires of the audience.

The rise of the novel is generally tied to the mass market publishing opportunities of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, which allowed longer form materials to be made available for a reasonable cost. However, the roots of the novel go back to the theater. Dramatic presentation of a complex main plot interwoven with one or more sub-plots was the basis for this later form. Novels such as Tristram Shandy or Pilgrim's Progress, early examples of the form, draw heavily on the modus dramatae originated in ancient Greece. Even today, it is common to see novelized versions of dramatic presentations, although the source material is more likely to be movies or television programming.

With these long and honorable traditions of the short story, novella and novel forms in mind, why write flash fiction? Why limit the work to a thousand words?

Flash fiction is not driven by the sudden availability of portable reading devices. Rather, the growth of the devices' capabilities is being driven by our desire, our need to engage with good fiction. Living as it does within the contex of fractured lives, the hunger for fiction prompts the development of the flash fiction form. A story that can be read and enjoyed in a few minutes, a standalone piece of another world, fulfills a need that -


I beg your pardon?


Yes, I know. That's what I'm doing, explaining why I write flash fiction.


What? Really? Why I write in general? Just, why I write? Are you sure?


Ah. So it is. It's still 750 words, though, right? Well, that's no problem. I don't need 750 words for that.

I write to make you feel happy.

I write to make you feel sad.

I write to make you feel angry or amused or aroused. I write to make you feel scared or proud or nostalgic. I write to make you feel loved or to make you feel alone.

I write to make you feel enlightened or to make you feel confused so that you can then *become* enlightened.

I write to make you feel better than you are, to make you feel better than you deserve to feel. I write to make you feel my pain, to make you feel the pain of the people around you, to make you feel your own pain.

I write to make you feel that there's hope.

I write to make you feel.


  1. Wonderful piece! I love the contrast between the formalized style above and the simple style below.
    To honor the cadence of the piece I would change "I write to make you feel that there's hope" to there is. The contraction truncates the flow, IMHO. :)

  2. Thanks, Laura! The essence of humor is disruption and contrast.

    That's an interesting thought about the cadence at the end. I've been saying it aloud each way, trying to decide which I like better. For now, I'm going to leave it as is. I wrote this up as a bit of a lark for EU's "Why I Write" contest. Once an entry is posted, you can't edit it.

    Too bad, since in the EU version, I said Homer's Odysseus. Since I was talking about the book rather than the hero, I should have said Homer's Odyssey. I did correct that glaring error in this version; otherwise, it is as I entered it over there.

  3. I think all writers should work on an such 'artist statements'. It shows you care.


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