Writing is very black and white. All you have to work with are words on the page, but words on the page have the power to impact the landscape of humanity. Words on the page have set people free, imprisoned people for life, led people to and from religion, and have fundamentally shaped understanding of morality, philosophy, and science.
Flash fiction is not an entirely new idea, but in the 21st century it has gained popularity with some specific parameters and is related to the shift to the digital era. The digital era has ushered in shorter attention spans for better or worse. Many fields of discourse are working in response to the shift including journalism as evidenced by the rise in value of brevity. Axios touts its ability to boil down news to the bare essentials: no big words, no non-essential information. Just the facts. According to FeedHive, the length of TikToks that get the most views are between fifteen and sixty seconds. We are officially in an era where less is more.
Flash fiction in general terms can range from the six-word story to around a thousand words. Flash fiction contains a plot or at least a sense of start and finish to the piece. A problem has been resolved or an inciting incident has unraveled and the end implies that life will now carry on in a different way. The short word count doesn't mean simple, in fact, flash fiction should deal in complex themes and developed characters. And one other trademark of flash fiction is often a surprise ending or a quick twist that makes you want to go back and read the piece over again knowing what you know now.
One famous six word piece of literature attributed to Hemingway is: "For sale: baby shoes, never worn." Six words I can hardly read without tearing up for the plot that isn't even there in black and white, but yet, somehow, perfectly clear in my head.
Another, longer, example is a piece published in The New Yorker called "Heirlooms," by Paul Theroux. Theroux takes the reader on a journey of the life of a tomato paired nicely with beautiful sentimental snapshots of Theroux's own family heritage.
Sometimes a flash fiction piece can take you on a word journey which is what I attempted in my selection called "My Morning Commute," which I've added below. You'll see that as you read, the cadence and the sentence structure shift to add texture before the twist in the ending. I liken this strategy to 4-D cinema where your seat rumbles incorporating another sensory experience to sight and sound.
My Morning Commute
by Trina A. Kraus ©2023
My morning commute starts in my driveway with my new husband handing me the lunch he made for me and the coffee he brewed for me. He walks me to my Jeep and hands me my work bags and tries to kiss me a bunch while I’m still adjusting my shoes and coat. I exit my little neighborhood. The only one I’ve known for fifteen years. I raised my babies here and I made new friends here. Dozens of them.
I will pass my ex-husband’s house. He moved right around the corner. I mean right around the corner literally. He lives with Marcy. She apparently likes yellow and she hand painted their front door and mailbox to match in bright, school-bus-yellow. But joke’s on her, because what she probably doesn’t know is that the first vehicle my ex and I bought together was that exact same yellow. I remember the two of us, newlyweds, when he was fresh off of a combat deployment to Iraq. We grappled over the price together with Mr. Trueman. He was the dad of a fellow soldier and so we felt comfortable buying from him. Mr. Trueman only had a bright, school-bus-yellow Nissan Xterra. At that time I trusted my ex-husband to make good decisions, so we bought it.
Next I will pass the new middle school. I pass kiddos with floppy post-Covid hair in their eyes and fifty-pound backpacks weighing them down, but they make it a point to appear completely nonchalant. Their dead eyes focus razor sharp straight ahead while they trust their white airpods to shout out for them, “I WILL NOT AND CAN NOT ACKNOWLEDGE YOU!” I remember the uproar over the construction of that new middle school. I even attended some meetings about it. The news aired clips of the school board meetings. Police were called to eject parents from some of those meetings. People had signs made: SAVE OUR CHILDREN, BUILD THE SCHOOL, and SAVE OUR CHILDREN, SAVE OUR TAX DOLLARS. Construction started. One board meeting later construction halted. Another board meeting and construction began again. Our town is still not over it.
I will pass the Dunkin’ Donuts which is boring. Their coffee is mediocre at best and, here’s a little secret, America does not run on Dunkin’. Only maybe from Ohio east runs on Dunkin.
Before I ease into the next town, where I work, I pass a quiet piece of our reservoir. That first piece is unassuming. There are trees blocking it and it’s narrow, but my Jeep glides on the overpass. It gets your attention, but until you pass the next part, you don’t realize that’s small potatoes. Just as soon as you mourn the inability to appreciate that quick slice of beauty, the real deal opens up. The second wave of the reservoir is my favorite. You are gifted ample opportunity to enjoy this part and you can’t help but do so.
On frosty mornings, I swear I can see the Sugar Plum Fairy swirling in miniature figure eights among the crystalized cat tails and diamond studded brambles. I don’t know the scientific name for it, but those microscopic water droplets that form above the icy water that are too warm to be snow and too cold to be rain just hang in the air above the water and make everything behind it appear as though you’re looking through smoked glass.
Years from now, when I don’t have to do this commute anymore, I’ll miss that reservoir. Getting this job was my ticket out of the marriage. Driving over that reservoir every morning means peace.