Flash fiction fail

I greatly enjoy reading flash* science fiction stories, as well as writing them. One can find some terrific examples in the Futures column of Nature magazine, also in Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online, amongst others. Yet despite its increasing market presence, especially on-line, flash SF suffers from a less than stellar reputation, especially amongst author organisations. Clear evidence of this is supplied by the Science Fiction Writers of America’s recent decision to change its membership qualification rules. As a consequence, the usefulness of pro-rate flash fiction sales for qualification has been significantly downgraded. To me, this seems an odd thing to do. It’s almost as if someone on the SFWA board has thought “You cheeky blighters, trying to palm us off with these easy-to-write micro-fictions. Well, let’s put a stop to your little game…”

I can assure any doubters reading this piece that flash fiction isn’t intrinsically easy to write, at least not well, any more than, say, miniature portraits are easy to paint, or tiny clockwork mechanisms for wrist-watches are easy to design and build.

Don’t get me wrong: there’s plenty of bad flash fiction out there–dependent on clich√© and twist-endings–but that’s true of any mode of fiction. There is nothing intrinsically stale, trite or undemanding about flash fiction. I shudder to think how much more intellectual effort I’d have to put into writing ten good flash stories, compared with a single story of comparable quality in the 5000-10000 words range.

Rather than simply complain about this state of affairs, I’ll make a specific proposal. As far as I’m aware, there is currently no specific award for SFF flash fiction**. I think there should be. I don’t know how a new award might be funded or administered, but perhaps the Hugo and Nebula committees could ponder the matter. And while they do that, perhaps they could also ponder the longstanding short fiction categories, namely short story (<7500 words), novelette (7500-17500 words) and novella (17500-40000 words). Are they still fit for purpose? To my mind, there is no intrinsic difference between a long short story (say, 7000 words) and a short novelette (say, 10000 words), whereas flash fiction is rather different in kind: a miniature short story***. In that respect, it is every bit as meaningful a category as novella (a short novel).

I’d be interested to hear what SF writers and readers think about this.

* Some still refer to such pieces as short-shorts.

** Please correct me if I’m wrong!

*** There’s no widely accepted definition for flash fiction’s maximum word-count. Some would argue for 1000 words, others 1500. I’ve also heard the argument that anything below 2000 words is not a proper short story.¬†

2 thoughts on “Flash fiction fail

  1. deb

    The changing categories of SFWA which exclude Natures Futures (850-950 words) and probably many of Flash Fiction Online and any Daily SF story <1000 words stories for associate membership is very discouraging. Yes, it’s a signal that SFWA consider flash to be, not an indicator of professionalism. I say: not so. Flash is perfect online reading material. I love flash, both the reading and the writing of it. You do see flash hitting the Best of Year’s anthos. I’ve not seen flash on award lists, as far as I can recall.

    I’d love to see an award for flash. Maybe the British Science Fiction Association or the British Fantasy Association could lead the way.

    1. Vaughan Stanger

      100% agree with that, Deb. Let’s hope we can stimulate a few conversations on this subject, both here and elsewhere.

      On the subject of flash not getting nominated for awards, I’ve just checked ‘If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love’ by Rachel Swirsky, which is nominated for a short-story Hugo. It contains just under 1000 words. So there is hope. It’s a terrific story too (IMO).

Comments are closed.