Do you ever write Flash Fiction? A complete story – beginning, middle, end – in as few words as possible?. The discipline forces us to avoid, throw out, delete all those precious, extra words we love to use. When so much of what we write – school essays, dissertations, novels – is governed by the number of words as much as the content it is a useful exercise to see how much you can convey using just a few well-chosen words. In one sense, I think, the rigid discipline of traditional poetic form is an exercise in Flash Fiction, where one word must convey nuances and connotations in several directions at once. Just look at some of Shakespeare’s sonnets to see what I mean.
Mark Twain expressed it succinctly: “To get the right word in the right place is a rare achievement. To condense the diffused light of a page of thought into the luminous flash of a single sentence, is worthy to rank as a prize composition just by itself…Anybody can have ideas–the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph.” Was this the germ of Flash Fiction?
I suppose the supreme example is the Latin phrase attributed to Julius Caesar describing victory after a short, effective battle: “veni, vidi, vici”. In English, of course, we double the number of words but it’s still pretty pithy: “I came. I saw. I conquered”. Just think of the story contained in those six words. The hardships suffered on long marches; ferocious battles against an undisciplined enemy;. the final satisfaction in imposing some sort of order. The reward of returning home to, hopefully, a hero’s welcome. (I had always thought these words referred to JC’s conquest of Britain but the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary corrects me on this misapprehension: he was referring to a battle in Asia Minor. Another myth bites the dust!). My grandson won a prize for a short story of less than fifty words – positively loquacious compared with Caesar!
I find Flash Fiction very difficult. I am a wordy writer, not trusting myself to find the one right word which will enable the reader to grab the precise notion I want to convey. It is one of the things I try to identify when I read my work for the umpteenth time. On the other hand, I love words. I love the feeling of them, the music of them, the history contained in their origins. We use so few of the words available to us in the English language but I’m convinced that if we extend our vocabulary enough we will find, somewhere, somehow, the exact word to convey our message. I’m still looking!
And now I’ve written so many words that there’s no room for the piece of Flash Fiction I had intended to post – ah, well, next time…
© Ann Forrester 2016