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View Full Version : Plot & Action Vs. Meaning & Feeling



matthew.pee
04-27-2016, 10:59 AM
This is going to sound similar to one of the older threads on this sub-forum that asks "Does something have to happen?", but my question lies within the title. With flash fiction, is the aim supposed to be a story where something happens— like events, physical actions, conflict both inner and outer— or is it supposed to convey a meaning or make you feel something?

I guess the obvious answer would be "whatever you aim to achieve when you write the story," but I've read well-received short stories and flash fiction in class where I read it, read it again, stare at the text and just ask myself That's it? What's the point of this? That falls under more of the "Meaning and Making You Feel Something" whenever I read things like that, because usually when something actually happens, it's too captivating to not finish the text satisfied.

Also referring back to the "Does something have to happen" thread, they touched up on conflict needing to happen, no matter what shape or form, and no matter how small, in order for it to be a story and not a "scene". A scene being, well, a scene where it just depicts a scene and nothing really happens. But this confuses me, as the things I read that were well-received often just seem like scenes, or prose that's supposed to make you feel something.

Is it just me digging too deep into this? Is there really a definition (other than word count) for flash fiction, that tells whether or not something in the story has to happen, or is that up to me as the writer? Or maybe my eye for these kinds of things isn't fully developed, and I'm really missing the point on these "scenes" and prose-like texts.

dpaterso
04-27-2016, 11:32 AM
I think I know what you mean? It's tough to include *everything* in a short short story. But rather than closing the story off neatly, you can deliver the potential for events to come -- so it's not a complete short story, it's a springboard for what could happen next, and the reader's left to imagine that for themselves. Which can be just as satisfying if not more so.

...he theorized wildly.

-Derek

Sagml John
04-27-2016, 09:48 PM
I think I know what you mean? It's tough to include *everything* in a short short story. But rather than closing the story off neatly, you can deliver the potential for events to come -- so it's not a complete short story, it's a springboard for what could happen next, and the reader's left to imagine that for themselves. Which can be just as satisfying if not more so.

...he theorized wildly.

-Derek

Yes! Especially when the word count rule is REAL short. Narrative wanted something they called an iStory (different from the real world definition). Their definition was 150 words or less with a satisfying feeling. For that much, I popped off with a hike where I remembered everything from a recurring dream. That filled over a hundred fast. It was sort of... "I dreamed that too" for each thing I saw. The last two sentences was me suddenly seeing a grizzly bear reared up in front of me and me thinking, "Well, I don't remember dreaming that". The end. I'm saving it for a toilet book because I found out that Narrative charges for even thinking about submitting anything.

Shorts could have a full arc (short story) but are best with a punch line. It would be like a joke but it better be one that no one has ever heard before. I think the reason to read flash is entertainment without commitment.

matthew.pee
04-28-2016, 02:26 AM
I think you both were able to put into words what I couldn't :tongue . It feels like there should still be balance between the two though. I mean, you wouldn't want a mundane scene, and only a scene, nor would you want to cram a full fledged story into a word count, right? Well maybe that depends more on the word count.


...I found out that Narrative charges for even thinking about submitting anything.

Also, what exactly is Narrative?

Sagml John
04-28-2016, 06:11 PM
Definitely not mundane. One advantage to cramming is that it gives a good exercise in active voice. Passive voice is my bane. It seems the mag publishers like artsy, so get the shoehorn out and cram a lot of metaphors in also (IMO -- that may be wrong but that is what I get from the better ones). BTW, Narrative is http://www.narrativemagazine.com/.

Geoffrey Fowler
05-14-2017, 02:48 AM
I don't understand what you mean by “Plot & Action Vs. Meaning & Feeling.” First, a plot without meaning is a meaningless plot so “plot vs. meaning” is a non-starter. Second, a plot unfolds through development and this can take many forms; whether it includes action or not depends on what one means by that term. Certainly, characters in a flash piece can do things other than talk: they may go places, kill someone, jump off a bridge, whatever the author dreams up. Finally, if by feeling you mean that a flash piece has to evoke emotion then I would say ‘no.’ In general, I think flash should steer clear of emotion: flash + emotion = trite.

A lot of flash doesn’t have a plot in the sense that movies have a plot; there is no build up of tension, no conflict, no Aristotelian denouement, just a sense of revelation after the final paragraph that there was a meaning to what came before.

So maybe the answer to your question is flash must have a plot and must have meaning — by hook or by crook.

The Urban Spaceman
05-14-2017, 11:12 PM
Finally, if by feeling you mean that a flash piece has to evoke emotion then I would say ‘no.’ In general, I think flash should steer clear of emotion: flash + emotion = trite.

It probably depends on 1) how well it's executed and 2) the personal tastes of the reader. I've seen some great emotional flash fiction that I wouldn't describe as "trite" at all (and some that is, because it was badly executed).


A lot of flash doesn’t have a plot in the sense that movies have a plot; there is no build up of tension, no conflict...

There can be. Take a look at AW's very own recent Flash Fiction Challenges, if you'd like an example of some excellent flash stories in which tension and conflict can be conveyed without the need for wordiness.

Geoffrey Fowler
05-15-2017, 02:25 AM
When I wrote "a lot of flash," I left the door open to flash which does have something resembling an Aristotelian plot. But from my experience in reading the prize-winning pieces on several sites that host flash-fiction contests, I would say that these are rare. This doesn't mean they failed; it just means they differed from what one expects from a story. On the other hand, I've seen a lot of flash that did fail because it tried to tell a conventional story; the reason was always the same: the author couldn't come up with anything better than a throw-away ending. That's like stumbling just before the finish line in a track event; it wipes out whatever merit your running had before you fell on your face.

The Urban Spaceman
05-15-2017, 02:54 AM
When I wrote "a lot of flash," I left the door open to flash which does have something resembling an Aristotelian plot.

Good point; I need to read more closely.


That's like stumbling just before the finish line in a track event; it wipes out whatever merit your running had before you fell on your face.

To stumble is human; to write the perfect flash story, divine. I'm a big fan of flash as both an art form, and a tool in teaching brevity to writers who tend to over-stuff their stories with irrelevant minutiae. At times, I'm one of them.