I don’t get flash fiction. 500 words! Good grief! How can you even begin to tell a satisfactory story in the equivalent of six paragraphs? By the end of the sixth paragraph, you’ve basically managed to introduce the unhappy family, the way the sea looks from the porch of their house in the summer, and the smell of the strawberry jam the little sister is making in the kitchen, without knowing how, because her mother is out on the ocean photographing sea life and her father isn’t paying attention to any of the children anymore.
And texting! Texting eludes me. 160 characters (for a long time I thought that was 160 WORDS. I suppose I thought that because I found it unbelievable that any unit of writing could be measured in characters. That messages are indeed measured that way breaks my heart.) 160 characters isn’t enough to do anything other than say no, an unsatisfactory no at that, because you can’t tell a joke after you say no, or explain your no, or make your no into a no-but-yes-to-you-because-I-really-like-you-even-though-I-can’t-go-to-that-thing-with-you.
Right now, all I know is that I don’t want to read 500 word stories. If I’m going to read a story, I want it in the conventional short form (say 4,000 words or more), or I’ll take it long. I mean that. I’ll take it Victorian, three volume long, I’ll even take it Russian three million volumes long.
As for the 160 character no, I want my nos to go on and on and end in yeses or at least devolve into something so interesting you forget about the no. That takes more than 160 characters, I think we can all agree. If I am going to get a message, I want it to come in a letter, a really good, long letter with lots of descriptions and funny stories. In a pinch, an e-mail will do. Okay — an e-mail will more than do.
And if I do want to read 500 words of meaning, then I want a poem. A world can live in 500 words. A no can become a yes in much less than 500 words — in half of 500 words, in fact. That is what John Donne is expert at, for example.
But here’s a thought: What if there really is something wonderful about short shorts and I am missing the boat? Yikes. Could be that the problem isn’t the form at all. I mean, every form — whether it is a sonnet, or a short story, or who knows, even short-shorts and, what the heck, text messages — has its brilliant practitioners, artists who need the form to give birth to what’s in their heads. Take the Shakespearean sonnet, for example — 14 lines. A lot happens in those fourteen lines, but almost always at either the ninth line or in the couplet at the end of the sonnet there is a turn, and the thought that’s been extended through most of the sonnet is resolved, or turned on its head. I think some people must think like this — in iambic rhythms, maybe even the rhyme scheme makes a kind of innate sense to them, and the way a sonnet reasons also is the way they like to think. And this could be true of the short short (maybe even the text). Maybe there is a sort of thought that really sings when it is placed in the short-short form. And maybe the Shakespeare of Texting is out there right now, sending texts that are miracles of language.
And so, today, I have resolved to work my way out of my aversion to flash fiction. I mean, really, who am I to diss any written form? After all, I am the woman who thought of the short story — for an embarrassingly long time — as a failed novel. (I admit this because I am Catholic, and can only be absolved of my idiocy by confessing to it, except I don’t go to confession and I don’t think having bad ideas about literature is officially a sin….). And I was very wrong about that. Very wrong.
So, fortuitously, today I had tea with a lovely fellow blogger, who recommended I read Lydia Davis, which I’m going to do. And then I had lunch, with another blogging friend, and I realized she writes 100 word pieces — so I’m going to look at some of hers.
It might turn out that narrative is my thing, and that I will be unable to enjoy something that looks like it should be narrative, but isn’t. But I will find out, and that will be fun to do.