Flash fiction is not one of my favorite forms of writing. In fact, you could say that I kind of hate it. I dislike it so much that I've had to restart this post four times for being much too harsh. It's not really the fault of the flash fiction, either; it's those people that write flash fiction. No, not you that have written a short story or three that happen to fall into the "flash fiction" range, but those people that just love "flash fiction" because it's so unique and forces you to do so much with so little and all of that other pretentious hogwash.
And it is. Pretentious. And hogwash.
It's especially pretentious since most (almost all) of what those people write when they're doing all of their flash fiction crap is crap. C. R. A. P.
Here's something I read recently that kind of illustrates the point. It was someone talking about the "grand tradition" of flash fiction and how it goes back decades and decades. Um... no... the term "flash fiction" didn't appear until the early 90's, so it, as a thing, certainly wasn't a thing before that. Which is not to say that short stories under 1000 words didn't exist before then, because they did, and they, at various points, had various other names. But, sometimes, when things are given a "name," they become a "thing," and "flash fiction" has only been a "thing" for two decades (which is, technically, decades, but it's hardly "decades"), and it's only been a "real thing" for, maybe, the last decade or so.
But that's kind of the thing, they are JUST short stories. In fact, on the scale of literary items, so to speak, "flash fiction" doesn't even exist. You have:
short stories -- less than 7500 words
novelettes -- 7500 - 17,500 words
novellas -- 17,500 - 40,000 words
novels -- 40,000+ words
Yeah, I did research on this stuff for my creative class, and that's really the generally accepted breakdown. Something close to that, anyway. No one even mentions flash fiction in terms of publication. Generally speaking, if a magazine (or whoever) wants something that would fall into the "flash fiction" category, they ask for SHORT STORIES at around the 1000 word length.
Yeah, I know a lot of you are probably thinking I'm getting all worked up over nothing, and I can see that, but let me give you a similar example. I thought about speech as a major when I was in college, so I took the requisite intro to speech class. WOW! Now there was a class that was trying too hard. You think psychology tries hard to be recognized as a science, try taking a speech class. One of the things we learned early on is that there are specific "scientific" names for the distances people stand away from you when you talk to them. (and I am completely making these names up, because I don't remember (nor do I care to remember) what the actual names are) So, if someone is standing within 2" of you, he is in your "C" zone. If he is 2-4" away, he is in your "R" zone. If he's 4-8" away, he's in your "A" zone, and, if he's 8-12" away, he's in your "P" zone. Yes, because all of that, also, is CRAP. While it's true that how close to you someone stands is important, because it affects different people in different ways, there are also cultural and personal distinctions about this stuff, so it's NOT THE SAME for everyone, so giving these arbitrary distances names was just a way to sound all sciency about it, and it didn't mean anything.
And that's how I feel about "flash fiction."
Oh, and I decided not major in speech, because, after that class, I figured it was just going to be a waste of time. Speech, as a major, is like trying to dress a pig in a dress and pass it off as your prom date.
So... flash fiction just tries too hard. It does. It's trying hard to be something more than just a short story, and, the truth is, it is just a short story. Except, mostly, they're very poorly written short stories.
And here's why:
1. Frequently, because the author is trying to stuff, say, a 5000 word story into an artificial 1000 word format, he has to rely on lots of exposition (or Telling) to impart enough of the story to make it make sense, so what we end up with is 500-700 words of the author telling us the background and only a few hundred words of the actual action of the story (the Showing). It's very unsatisfying, and I'm always left feeling like the author should have just written another few thousand words so that we could actually experience more of the story as story rather than as "historical" prologue.
Mostly, people should just write the story that needs to be told without worrying about how long or short it is. Shorter, contrary to popular belief, is not better, as I'm continually telling the kids in my creative writing class, who always want to get away with shorter, and I have to tell them to go back and expand expand expand. Show me the action; don't just tell me what happened. Flash fiction writers need to take this lesson to heart. If half of your flash fiction is Telling, you're writing in the wrong format. Period.
2. I suppose because the format is so short, authors of flash fiction often feel like they need to work in some kind of twist ending. Something unexpected to give us a shock at the end. These things sort of give flash fiction a joke-like quality, like they need some kind of punch line. The twists often feel forced and unnatural, too, which makes them bad jokes. I've not read a single piece of flash fiction with a twist at the end that was worth reading. Especially when the twist is accomplished through some gruesome act for no other reason than to be shocking.
I truly hope this fad of flash fiction passes relatively quickly, because it's reducing story telling to the same level that free verse reduced poetry, which is garbage. None of that is to say there aren't good examples out there, but it's not something just anyone can do with any skill. Learn how to tell a story and use as many words as you need to tell that story. If it happens to fall under 1000 words, great, but, if not, don't force it. It's pretty much the same as cutting off your toes to get your foot into a smaller shoe.