Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Short v Long (# Flash fiction # Erotica Readers and Writers Assn. # Proust)

by Daddy X

What does it take to tell a story? How many words?

When I read for my own pleasure, it’s usually a longer work. I like novels that work like a blanket, enabling me to wrap myself in it and wallow in the intricacies relevant to the world the artist has created. A set-up scenario that can essentially be lived in, at least for a time. That’s my idea of a great book. Mailer’s Harlot’s Ghost, @ 1300 pages. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Anything by T.C. Boyle. For non-fiction there’s Krakatoa by Simon Winchester, to learn how the earth operates beneath the surface and how that affects us living on the crust. I’m the guy who actually enjoyed Proust.

Of course, I also read short stories, but they’re usually for convenience, obligation, and time-killer purposes. As one of the ERWA Storytime editors, I read a lot of short stories. I have T.C. Boyle’s Stories II, (a very thick book. Dude’s prolific) and from time to time will take it to a doctor’s waiting room. Or on a plane. I have also reviewed Etgar Keret in these pages, Israeli master of flash fiction. In fact, Keret has inspired me to attempt a collection of my own short fiction, which will be out April 21.  Look for Flash Daddy at your favorite pervy purveyor.

Contrary to my reading habits, several stints as ERWA’s Flash Fiction editor have geared my writing to the shorter forms. Most of my work is under 1200 words. How and why does that happen? Why do I usually write the shorter stories when my preference as a reader is just the opposite? 

I don’t often question that reality. I try to take inspiration if and when it comes. If my limited talents are best served by the shorter works, why not? It’s about writing after all.

Come to think, it could just be my own laziness. If you discount an attempt at a (non-erotic) piece back in the early 90’s, I’ve never even tried to write a novel. From what I have seen, short stories can be effective with a single plot. Novels, especially ones that I prefer, employ plots and sub-plots, well-rendered characters encountering a host of issues that all need to be addressed (and ultimately tied up) for some attempt at that elusive scope. Too much for this tired old brain.

Some writers have trouble with flash fiction. We all have processes that, either by habit or intention, work for us. IMO, if you can write an outline of a simple story, it’s just a matter of smoothly connecting those loose elements in the most economical fashion, then bingo, you’ve got a flasher.

The most common (and rewarding) method in writing flash fiction is to take a longer work and cut enough connective tissue to present something more concise, more powerful. That skill can be valuable if only as an exercise to see how many words it really takes to tell a story. Learning ways to affect an economy of words will also serve other skills in presenting a choice of how much to tell versus how much to leave to the reader’s imagination. How to control readers’ imaginations the quickest and most efficiently. How to jump from one subject to another in the cleanest and clearest ways. From my experience, the story most often benefits by the trim.

I also employ another, less common process: I will often write a complete flasher in as short a form as possible; then, since it’s erotica, I’ll use the rest of my (200wc for ERWA specs) words to affect the heat necessary to the genre.

Any way you work to make flash fiction happen, and make it happen smoothly, will benefit your versatility when writing longer works. To be concise is to be clear, and clarity may just be the most important element in any literary endeavor.

Speaking of Proust: When “Remembrance of Things Past” (Now translated as In Search of Lost Time) was garnering its early revues, criticism was that it was such a massive read, what with sentences that went on forever, paragraphs running for pages, using six complete novels and a massive 1,267,069 words, simply too big an undertaking.

Proust’s answer was: “Yes, but it is concise.”

All a matter of opinion.


  1. Things change.

    I used to find it really difficult to write flashers. Of course, back then, the ERWA specification was 100 words, not 200, but I don't think that was the problem. I was just plain *wordy*.

    It's much easier now. I don't know why. Possibly your influence! Anyway, that makes me feel far less inadequate!

    I'll end with my all-time favorite flasher. Which is very different from yours.

    100 words from 2001 (which probably took me hours to write):

    By Lisabet Sarai

    "I like your poems," she said, leaning closer across the cafe table, so that he could see the shadowed hollow between her breasts where the candlelight did not reach. "I like your images. I can taste them, roll them around on my tongue. They catch in my throat like unshed tears."

    He sipped his chianti, adjusted his glasses, pretended to ignore her stealthy hand on his thigh. Her fingers crept over his chinos, aiming for the swelling at his root. He thought of rejection slips, the dirty laundry scattered round his flat, the bills waiting to be paid. Useless. None of these mundane devices could prevail against her
    blonde adoration.

    He stood like iron. Her triumphant hand claimed him. "I like the way you can write 'fuck'," she said, "and make it into a poem."

    1. A rich and well-executed flasher. Lisabet. Yes, 100 words isn't many to express so much. Great sense of pace and atmosphere.

  2. i've sometimes referred to the writing process as feeling, to me, like what a sculptor does. Trimming away here and there, adding just a tiny bit there, enhancing the effect of what is left. I don't write much flash fiction at all, although I've done some (and edited an anthology with stories of 1200 words or fewer,) but as both writer and editor I do quite a bit of whittling and reshaping. There's something very satisfying about carving a story down to its essential brightness, like a cutting a gem.

    1. Great analogy, Sacchi. Yes, shaping the whole to a palpable effect.

  3. Great line: "To be concise is to be clear, and clarity may just be the most important element in any literary endeavor."

    1. Thanx, Jean-

      We sure don't want readers going "Whaaaaa?"

  4. I think it's interesting that your reading tastes and writing tastes are so different. I'm just the opposite of you reading-wise. Huge opuses fill me with dread. My writing matches, though. I do write novels, but they're on the shorter side, and I love writing short stories.


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