In SmokeLong‘s “Why Flash Fiction?” series, writers and editors explore what draws them to the form. In this column, Rolli posits that his love for flash fiction may be pathological. Submit your own “Why Flash Fiction?” article or other flash-related essays on our Submittable page!
I’ve never sat down with the intention of writing a very short story. I’ve set out to write longer things… But my novels erode into short stories, my short stories into flash fictions. This is probably pathological.
Yet I’ve written three novels. Improper novels, mongrels. A pair of novels-in-stories, a novel-in-poems. Purebred novels terrify me—and bore me. They’re so plumped-up with filler that one has to read hastily to make headway. Forcing readers to see only every tenth word has been the fashionable ambition for centuries. But it isn’t mine.
That’s flash fiction’s real virtue: it can’t be skimmed. Skim, and you’d miss everything. Flash gives you permission to read as slowly as you like, to savor. To read as bookish children do: deliberately, with pleasure. Or why bother?
Of course the challenge of a lean medium is that every word needs to be the right word, the best word. So it can take as many or more hours to write a good flash as a mediocre 4,000-6,000 word story. But to write well and efficiently, to write “good parts,” only… That’s my objective, always. My ambition.
It’s thankless work, naturally, and unprofitable, and if I had more sense (and less self-discipline), I’d write that important four hundred page opus and drag my wagonful of prize monies into the Swiss sunset. But I couldn’t do it. Not to stave off starvation, not to save my life.
Like I said… It’s probably pathological.
Rolli is a writer and cartoonist from Regina, Canada. He’s the author of six books, including the flash fiction collection I Am Currently Working on a Novel, which was longlisted for the 2015 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and shortlisted for the ReLit Award and the High Plains Book Award. Guernica Editions will publish his flash novel The Sea-Wave in the fall. Visit Rolli’s website (rollistuff.com) and follow him on Twitter @rolliwrites.