My Case For Flash Fiction
Modernity is a machine that continually reinvents its engine and fuel. The latest engine is of course the internet and the fuel is the technology used to interact with it. Ten years ago e-mail dominated online communication, then while still drivable that clunky Model-T took the rear as instant messaging offered a swifter, leaner way to talk with people. A few years later the advent of social networking, or Web 2.0, created virtual hangouts for internet users, replacing earlier models not entirely but significantly, and currently with the growing popularity of micro-blogging sites like Twitter and Pownce. It seem as though people engaging in online communication are test driving a Prius compared to the Model-Ts of yore. This condensation is a natural progression and in a unique way it seems directly related to the real topic at hand, flash-fiction, but first more on how tech is changing lives.
The greatest impact tech and the internet have on modernity is instant access to information and the ability to be hyper-relevant. The same happened when cable news channels began broadcasting; no longer did the public have to wait for evening news reports or newspapers. The term “breaking news” added a sense of urgency to the story. With the advent of the internet though, news often breaks ahead of television on sites such as Digg. User-based submissions fuel Digg’s ability to be hyper-relevant and within the comments an instantaneous discussion surrounding the story begins. Adding to Digg’s ability to disseminate information rapidly is the increasingly noticeable DIGG THIS button on a plethora of websites.
If you claim the internet is not changing how people communicate then examine how your cell phone is changing it. SMS or text messaging changed how people communicate too, instead of a time-consuming conversation which of course requires formalities and niceties people can text an incomplete sentence that gets directly to the matter at hand and receive a reply quickly and without an overuse of time. Condensing the time people spend texting are emoticons and an acronym language referred to here as lolspeak (o rly? lol, kthnxbai). While slaughtering grammar and instruction from every English teacher ever, these tools amplify the speed of communication and in effect add to the hyper-relevancy of modernity.
Perhaps time is being saved but our attentions are quietly eroding. Viral videos like those on YouTube are a good example. Many people stop watching a video if it does not entertain them within fifteen seconds. Or maybe even ten. The thought of watching a nine-minute video kind of seems tiresome and chore-like too. Look toward popular cartoon shows like Family Guy and Adult Swim’s Tim and Eric’s Awesome Show Great Job! and you find fast, witty humor that rarely slows or spends a lot of time on one joke—unless the extended length plays ironically well against the normally rapid structure. Audiences quickly become expectant of high-caliber content in almost immediate dimensions and herein the power of flash-fiction becomes apparent.
Flash fiction is a relatively new literary genre, it features everything expected of fiction except that the plot, dialogue, and character development is delivered in brevity. While a typical flash piece is 250-1000 words it can vary, such as the sub-genre of 55-fiction—pieces consisting of 55 words. Given the little room allowed for the writer, the challenge is similar to writing poetry. All words must be chosen wisely, the tighter the language the better, everything superfluous must be removed. If done correctly what is left is a fast, moving piece, an experience the reader enters and leaves with ease and more time for something else. The internet is a boon for flash fiction as people can read an entire work in a matter of minutes, between checking emails or watching a funny video, and as a result a number of e-zines featuring flash fiction have spurred.
So as people’s lives get faster and more efficient through tech the ability for flash fiction to be relevant increases and actually becomes a natural extension of these changes, an artistic reflection of the society and modernity. Certainly there are faults with this approach to literature and art. For one, it can be argued the decrease in attention can only reduce the seriousness of literature and the amount of time considering what a particular piece has to say. But I say nay, in order to stay relevant, to compete with other forms of art, flash fiction is the next step in the line, the Twitter of literature. And this does not mean longer works are dead, they just need to change, for example, my novel Enter the Ape (shameless plug or pertinent to the debate you decide lol) is a series of flash fiction chapters strung together into a larger, more traditional work. This structure allows the reader to receive story without haste, quickly enticing them and motivating them to read more, bringing new vigor to fiction altogether. Flash fiction is the new fuel to propel the literary machine, to accelerate it to higher speeds of story, all the while maintaining relevancy in an inattentive world.
Join Richard in the internet fast-lane at twitter.com/Richard_507 and pownce.com/507projex