Short But Sweet: Creativity Through Constraints In Flash Fiction

In her introduction to the anthology Fast Food Fiction Delivery, Singapore-based writer and editor Noelle Q. De Jesus writes, “[e]veryone is writing shorter and faster, condensing the plot and crystallizing the climax…” Such is the essence of flash fiction, fiction pieces that are around 500 to 1000 words in length, packing the full weight of lengthier pieces of fiction in a quick package that can be read in a few minutes. It’s not exactly Twitter fiction (though several 140 characters-a-pop posts can be made into a flash fiction piece), but it’s not your regular short story, either. It’s smaller, faster, but with as much flavor as its larger, wordier cousins.

That does not mean that flash fiction is easy to write, however. Don’t let the shorter word count fool you – a faster piece can look easier to write, but the flash fiction writer must be able to skillfully weave in all aspects of a good story – from the introduction to the climax to the resolution – under the pressure of a smaller word count. So what’s the tendency going to be, for the flash fiction writer? Cut, cut, and cut some more. David Gaffney, in an article on The Guardian, writes about his experience writer shorter fiction (which he refers to as “sawn-off tales”):

It felt destructive, wielding the axe to my carefully sculpted texts; like demolishing a building from the inside, without it falling down on top of you. Yet the results surprised me. The story could live much more cheaply than I’d realised, with little deterioration in lifestyle. Sure, it had been severely downsized, but it was all the better for it. There was more room to think, more space for the original idea to resonate, fewer unnecessary words to wade through. The story had become a nimble, nippy little thing that could turn on a sixpence and accelerate quickly away.

Flash fiction compels you to remove the weight and decoration normally afforded to you by writing without any considerable restraint in terms of word count. This is a great test for how you are as a writer. Fond of long, painterly, but meandering descriptions? Need to take a while to introduce your character? Can’t help but use some lengthy dialogue between two characters to show just their relationship dynamic? All these will be challenged when you write flash fiction, and for better or for worse, you’ll be compelled to come up with new ways of going around your own writing, trying to come up with the same effect you’ve produced through longer prose.

But take that all as a challenge! There’s a lot of merit in trying your hand in writing shorter – but equally impactful – stuff. Who knows? Maybe you’ll get to fine-tune your writing, too!

I want to know more about flash fiction! But where do I go?

Here are a couple of resources to get you started:

Already written flash fiction? Share it with us!

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Future Imperfect: The Creative, Profound Ways Cyberpunk Deals With Crime and Humanity

Cyberpunk is one of the many subgenres of science fiction, and primarily deals with dark, futuristic locales, cyborgs, and criminal intent, and often takes on a noir feel. Think about urban nightlife, populate it with a lot of cybernetic things, flying cars, and outrageously outfitted criminals, and you’re probably going to get the feel of it.

It’s an interesting subgenre, because it deviates from the instantly conjured image when science fiction comes to mind – that is, stars, space, robots, colonies on other planets, and aliens. Cyberpunk grounds science fiction perhaps a little closer to home. In fact, a lot of the early cyberpunk works are interesting because to us, they’re familiar now. Take Synners, or Neuromancer. While not familiar in the sense that what they’re showing is reality, we have at least reached the level of technology where what has happened in early cyberpunk fiction is not impossible by today’s standards.

But sure, the Internet is not a mystified spectacle, and we’ve all had our fair share of visuals and virtual realities, experienced in different ways. The one thing that cyberpunk deals a lot of with is crime, since a lot of cyberpunk fiction anchors events in seedy underbellies with black market technology, and cyberpunk is able to negotiate with crime in so many creative with.

Take the Japanese anime Psycho-Passfor example. The premise is intriguing: in a futuristic Japan, the Public Safety Bureau solves crimes and attempts to preempt crimes by analyzing an individual’s Crime Coefficient – that is, the likelihood of him or her committing crime. Machines are everywhere in the series, and much of the technology the viewer is presented with figures out a person’s psychological state, this being the basis of whether or not one has criminal tendencies and the means to kill. And certainly it’s a brutal series, and certainly it challenges ideas and morals. Is it unethical to capture someone who’s only likely to commit a crime, but has not actually been caught red-handed? Is it alright to just rely on Dominators – guns that determine someone’s Crime Coefficient, and depending on the Coefficient, choose whether what you shoot is a paralyzing shot or a lethal one? The dependence on technology is obvious, and one questions whether the approaches are humane, whether there is even room for a human thread to run in the Public Safety Bureau’s line of work.

Psycho-Pass reminds me of a – not necessarily cyberpunk – short story by one of science fiction’s biggest and most influential names, Philip K. Dick. You might be familiar with the movie, but [The] Minority Report started out as a story about a Commissioner John Anderton, and the Precrime system, which predicts – through the help of people called ‘precogs,’ essentially people who can see into the future – which crimes will be committed in the future. And, accordingly, apprehend the criminals before a glimmer of criminal intent even sparks in their minds. It’s an interesting concept that deals with the question of whether or not someone should already be arrested before the crime is even committed. If, without a doubt, an individual would be guilty of a certain crime, then is it humane to arrest the individual while he or she is still innocent? But of course, it’s not that simple, because you will find out in the text that the Precrime system is not actually a hundred percent accurate.

There’s also the film, Blade Runner, which is based on Philip K. Dick’s book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? It involves an authority figure – a Blade Runner – called Deckard who’s tasked to apprehend renegade Replicants – essentially androids (and they look like humans – no immediate, on-the-spot way to figure out of they are Replicants) made to be shipped off to colonies where they’re supposed to do menial work. The film puts into question ideas of humanity, and what makes one really human.

There are, of course, much, much more cyberpunk works worth reading and seeing, and many of them – like any good piece of fiction – unsettle and make the individual questions things which are otherwise taken for granted. Cyberpunk is amazing, because it’s unrealistic but also realistic, in the way that the worlds and what is happening in them are familiar, in the way that the dynamics presented in them are familiar, except clothed in a lot of neon, grime, and cybernetic fixtures.

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