And, too frequently, the author has a 3000 word story he's trying to cut down to 1000 words, and it just doesn't work. I suppose what I'm saying is that if authors would let the story dictate the word length, some of these flash pieces, although they would quit being flash, would be better stories.
I do not, however, have an issue with timed writing exercises. These will, due to their nature, lead to what amounts to flash fiction or, possibly, vignettes.
All of that to say that last week I gave one of my creative writing classes a timed writing assignment. We're dealing with setting in that class, at the moment, so their assignment was to take 30 minutes and describe a setting for me. Characters were optional but there was to be no action unless the action contributed to the description of the scene. "For instance," I said, "if you want to describe how a cliff face is crumbly and dangerous, you could do that by giving me a climber and talk about the rocks sliding under his (or her) feet or a handhold giving way or something." Basically, any action had to be about the setting.
It's amazing just how difficult that idea was for the kids. So difficult that one of the kids gave me a total action scene which involved a kidnapping. One of them gave me what amounted to a list of items in a location. One of them wrote up the example I gave, which, actually, was fine. My (younger) son is in that class, and he knew what I meant and wrote up a very vivid description, if short, of a tidal pool (which I'd share with you if I had it available at this moment (but he's at school and I don't know where it is (probably with him in all actuality), so, maybe, I'll share it some other time)). Rendering settings, I can see, will be something we'll be working on at greater length.
Since I had 30 minutes on my hands, I sat down and did the assignment along with them. It's fun, upon occasion, to sit down and see what you can whip out in a short time. And I don't mean how much you can do from a larger work when you only have, say, an hour to write. I mean just pumping out something completely new in a short space of time. So I'm going to share what I wrote. Under 25 minutes. No changes. You're getting it exactly as I wrote it in class. Don't be surprised, though, if this pops up somewhere in the future, because I already have an idea for where this is going, because, yes, what I ended up with was a piece of flash fiction done in the way the name implies: It was written in a flash.
My currently untitled piece:
Leaves rustled and blew down the hard-packed dirt of the trail in the fading Autumn light. Light that was even more dim due to the arching branches of the trees. There were no shadows; it was all shadow with a few scattered patches of light here and there down the path, speckles of light scattered from the hand of some passing giant. Or, maybe, God. Little pieces He didn't need for the unseen sunset.
Up ahead, the path curved to the left and all was dark, the scant light feeding the darkness. Another gust of wind pushed more of the leaves toward me down the path, the rustling and tumbling of the small forms giving them the illusion of spiders scurrying along the trail, brushing my legs as they went by.
Something blew at my face, a leaf caught on the wind, and, ducking, I brushed it aside with the back of my hand, snagging it on my sweater. Although I couldn't feel it, the wind must have been picking up. The limbs of the trees creaked with it and more and more leaves swirled at me down the path. One caught in my hair; I felt it, and I reached up to comb it out with my fingers...
But it wasn't a leaf. It was a spider. A spider as big as my hand. They were all spiders...