View Full Version : Confused

06-16-2007, 09:02 PM
I've been reading a lot of flash fiction. And I've found, that with a few, wonderful exceptions, most flash fictions are all set-ups for a last, clever line that turns the whole thing into a joke or some cautionary lecture. Why is this? Why is it accepted that because it's flash fiction the conventions of literature can be disregarded? Why is it okay to make it no better than a joke you tell your friends? And not even a good joke at that.

If I read a book only to find that the whole thing was a set-up for a "clever " ending I'd be mightily pissed. Especially if the book wasnt well-written to begin with. Of course, I would have stopped reading the book long before I got to the end, having recognized it for what it is. So what makes it okay to do that in a flash fiction piece?

Just because it's flash fiction, doesnt mean we shouldn't spend time on it to make it as perfect as it can be. More time, in fact, than we spend on longer works. Flash is like poetry. Each and every word is vitally important and should be slaved over, struggled over until the absolutely perfect word is found.

A clever idea is just that. A clever idea. It doesnt make an interesting, good story in and of itself.

Fear not. I have examples.

First, an excellent little article about micro fiction.


some examples of good flash fiction, some of them excellent even. The first two links are longer stories.





http://www.bostonliterarymagazine.com/spring07drabble.html With this one, some are better than others. Especially read the last one by Shelly Webb, who is Shwebb on AW. It's everything a flash should be. Brief, well written, and not one bit of cleverness in sight. It has a proper beginning, middle, and end, with a proper resolution. (For the sake of honesty, I must disclose that the story Soft Peace He Brings was written by me)

Am I missing the boat? Is that what people really want? Precious little ideas that read like those little snippets in Reader's Digest only not as funny? Because I can't, I won't write that. Shouldn't we all strive to write the very best we can? I'm not necessarily talking "literature". I'm well aware of the disdain a lot of people have for literature. But even something genre based, something that entertains us, should be the best that it can be, shouldn't it?

06-17-2007, 05:19 PM
absolutely. agree with you 1500%. and people should be striving to write the best they can. To become better writers.

my issue? closer to home? you shouldn't use a board like a showcase, and not a learning ground. you can't throw up post after post. it's just not possible to do that and create good writing. you can't learn if you never work on your writing.

I'm getting frustrated, in that critting--reading and exploring other people's writing--is an invaluable tool for a writer to learn.

but I do think there's a lot of really great sudden fiction out there. You're examples are perfect illustrations of that.

06-17-2007, 06:00 PM
I'm really glad you raised this Nevada.

This is supposed to be a learning board, not a showcase or a SYW sub-forum. I'm keen to start looking at really good sudden fiction stories and evaluating what works and what sets them apart as excellent examples of the craft.

Right now I'm looking for examples of sudden fiction that have stayed with me, and I welcome examples from anyone else too (I'll take a look at the ones posted above).

I'll get something kicked off in the next week - keep your eyes peeled!

06-18-2007, 12:56 AM
I've been thinking about this since you posted it, nevada. I entered a contest recently and the winning piece (you can read it here (http://www.readingwriters.com/VERB-Jun07-p7.htm)) was very much the kind of piece you mentioned. It was very well written, but the entire piece was a set-up for the last line. I think it's a valid type of flash fiction and a lot of people really enjoy that sort of cleverness, so I wouldn't want to say that it's not good writing.

It isn't what I want to get out of short short fiction, though. What I want is a moment. An important, turning point of a moment. In a longer piece, you might be able to include everything that led up to that moment and the repercussions of that moment for the character. In flash, I'm most impressed by just seeing the important bit, so that's what I try to write - a moment of insight into a larger story, a single decision that enlightens a complex character, a twist of fate that changes a life.

I'm sure I'm overlapping with other threads now but what I'm trying to say is that there's a place and an audience for short, clever pieces and I'm sure those pieces will be able to find homes. I'm a lit major type and my taste runs the other direction.

Soccer Mom
06-18-2007, 02:26 AM
I enjoy both pieces. I admit, I would be royally cheesed to read an entire novel that was just a set up for a twist. This has happened to me in reading mysteries and....well....it cheesed me off. But it doesn't upset me so much in a shorter work, especially a drabble.

I dislike twists that don't make sense within the context of the story or one that relies on a gimmick or pun. I do agree that the writer should strive to make their work the best they can, but I enjoy the fun stuff along with the more contemplative.

06-18-2007, 03:31 AM
Quite frankly, the world is not composed solely of Literature (with a capital L) which shows itself as quite pretentious at times while ignoring the larger world of literature (with an ordinary l) because it comes from different avenues of a more common heritage. You can have your pretentious stories written often by those with degrees in Literature whose writing shows the elements of wonderful word artistry but whose content fails to show experience or ideas or you can accept that readers also want writing from common sources with ideas and content based upon real world experience because those also hold an appeal.

But arguing that misses the point. What's important most in writing is the reader. If the story works for the reader, then it was worth reading to that reader. If, on the other hand, the reader is concerned only with following rules, then the reader should find a job teaching and leave the real readers alone because writers whose work reaches readers will often know that the rules have to be bent and even broken to tell a story so that it can be enjoyed. That is partly why there are so many bestsellers that do not follow the rules. Their authors knew better than to follow every rule.

That becomes even more important in shorter works because by virtue of being shorter, the writer has to acknowledge that not everything can be told or shown. The writer has a story to tell and that means some elements have to be condensed, twisted, or even eliminated as the length becomes critically shorter and shorter.

06-18-2007, 04:05 AM
Ok, let me ask something. Is there one story you can find that demonstrates for you exactly what a flash story should be?

Nevada's already given some links, but what about everyone else? What one story has stayed with you? and why?

06-18-2007, 04:12 AM
Flash or sudden fiction is defined primarily by its length. That leaves it up to the author as to what elements have to be sacrificed in order to meet the length requirements. If the author is wise, the story will dictate to the author what is needed.

06-18-2007, 04:17 AM
OK, give me an example. What story do you know that works within the confined length of sudden fiction. And why does it work?

Adam Israel
06-18-2007, 04:31 AM
I think that very short stories can lend themselves to such humorous endings, for the reasons mentioned above. I believe that they are commonly referred to as a Feghoot (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feghoot).

It's okay to do it in flash because of the limited length of the work. It's entertaining. It's short. The reader isn't drawn in as emotionally as they would in a much longer piece.

Shouldn't we all strive to write the very best we can?
It depends what you're trying to achieve. Personally, I write to entertain. If I write a genre-based flash fiction that ends with a twist (and I have) and the reader laughs (or groans, as the case may be) then I've done my job.

Just because a piece of flash fiction ends with a twist doesn't mean it's bad. It doesn't imply the writer isn't striving to get better, nor is it an excuse to write poorly. It's simply another style of story.

Are these type of stories not welcome here? That's the feeling I get from reading this thread (and I could be interpreting it incorrectly).

06-18-2007, 04:35 AM
No, that's not it at all, ST. If you look at the boards, you'll see a lot of twist endings. They're a part of sudden fiction, but some magazines say specifically "no twist endings," while other's prefer them. What I'm concerned about finding is when twist endings work and when they don't so I can learn how to write stories that work.

I think it's easy to write a story and then turn it around in the last sentence. It's harder to write a story where that twist makes the reader slap their forehead because they didn't realize it was coming, but they feel they should have. That is what makes twist endings work for me.

06-18-2007, 04:44 AM
"Dead Time" works. It takes an idea and puts it forth in a way that's unexpected. It's not an easy story to initially understand, but that's also why it works because it gives the reader something to think about. It doesn't give the reader a main character to really care about because the two characters are constantly affected by events outside their control, yet a conversation still manages to take place. Likewise, the reader is left with characters whose images constantly change but that's caused again by the story's central idea. On top of that, the story uses stereotypes because the brevity forced that. The story could have been much longer, but there was no need for it to be stretched out. The reader would have become bogged down in excess baggage had the story attempted to delve into each description as the characters morphed. In fact, the brevity helped assure the story worked while a longer story would have floundered.

Yes, I just used one of my own for illustrating my subjective view, but I did so because it's posted in this forum and is available to anyone wanting to join the discussion. Any story from another source could be limited in availability.

06-18-2007, 04:47 AM
The link to Dead Time for anyone who wants it: http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=65595

06-18-2007, 05:02 AM
My concern is that all flash fiction is viewed as a long set-up for a joke when it could be much more than that. My concern is that people don't seem to spend too much time making the set-up as good as it can be, all they care about is the joke at the end. Comedy is harder than drama. In all forms. Plays, movies, literature. So why not make the set-up the most perfect it can be, instead of something you just have to get through to get to the good part? I'm not against funny stories. Festus posted one in the Flash Fiction Forum that i absolutely loved. It's a twist and I almost fell out of my chair laughing. Why? I don't know. Maybe because the voice suited the joke. Maybe because the set-up was worth the joke, or vice versa. I would link to it but I cant find it.

What I'm really sorry about is that I wanted to start a civil discussion about Flash fiction and what it could be. I didn't expect a personal attack. As for being accused of writing Literature, lets keep in mind that I write Romance novels. What genre is more universally sneered at as being unliterary?

06-18-2007, 05:02 AM
Likewise, not every story will work with every reader because we all read subjectively. If a reader doesn't like a particular genre, then it won't matter how well it's written. The reader just won't enjoy it.

06-18-2007, 06:07 AM
But good writing is good writing, doesnt matter what genre it is in. Just because I dont like a story doesnt mean I cant recognize that it's written skilfully. I don't like Richard Burton. Doesnt mean that I dont think he is an amazing actor, which he is. I just don't like him. But if someone would ask me to list the top ten actors of the 20th century, he'd be very close to the top.

Maybe we should confine it to writing. I dont like Fitzgerald. I see where he's great, I see all that, I still don't like him. Doesnt mean I can't recognize his writing skill.

06-18-2007, 06:39 AM
Are you certain that the story in question was meant to be a joke? Did it occur to you that there were two people with conflicting personalities who still cared for each other or that there were major issues coming out in the story? It's up to the reader to recognize and accept the issues, but the point is they're there. There were comments about rescue services, the medical industry, the funeral industry, and even the cemetary industry.

The main character even tried to look on the lighter side of being dead. It wasn't until the end that a different idea of eternity hit him with a sickening punch.

Sure, there were some convoluted sentences. You try writing something with a set word limit. That story came in just under the limit. With more allowance, some of those convoluted sentences could have been dealth with. As it was, the story used to be over 1100 words in length. It took numerous attempts to get it down to what I finally accepted. Even then, I don't think it's perfect.

06-18-2007, 06:53 AM
Dave, you're posting in the wrong thread. This was meant to be a general discussion on what Flash is and isnt and the quality or lack there of. It's not meant to be a comment on any specific work.

06-18-2007, 07:15 AM
I've been reading a lot of flash fiction. And I've found, that with a few, wonderful exceptions, most flash fictions are all set-ups for a last, clever line that turns the whole thing into a joke or some cautionary lecture. Why is this? Why is it accepted that because it's flash fiction the conventions of literature can be disregarded? Why is it okay to make it no better than a joke you tell your friends? And not even a good joke at that.

You opened the door. The problem may be that you're not viewing some works with a wide enough lens. You see a poorly executed joke or what you perceive to be a joke when there's something more than that to be found.

06-18-2007, 07:21 AM
Pardon the interruption...

It seems to me that this whole discussion centers around personal taste. I am a new writer and have recently posted a couple of pieces that happen to fall under 1000 words. I have to admit to feeling a little self conscious about them after reading this post because they probably fall into the dreaded twist ending category that is being targeted.

IMO we read for two primary purposes: information and entertainment. Manuals, textbooks, trade periodicals, etc are for information. Fiction is for entertainment and of course there is much gray area in between. But if we are reading for entertainment, why criticize a work if it entertains? Has it not fulfilled its purpose?

I read some of the examples that did not have twist endings and while I see their merit as literary work, they do nothing for me personally. Does that make them less valid? Certainly not. So if I enjoy reading and writing stories with twist endings, why is that less worthy?

06-18-2007, 07:23 AM
You opened the door. The problem may be that you're not viewing some works with a wide enough lens. You see a poorly executed joke or what you perceive to be a joke when there's something more than that to be found.

Nobody else will know what you are talking about. if you wish to argue about this specific crit then do so in the crit thread. Don't drag it into another thread. I've made no mention of anything specific in this thread.

06-18-2007, 07:28 AM
So if I enjoy reading and writing stories with twist endings, why is that less worthy?

You are not interupting at all. This is a general discussion meant for all.

I never meant to imply that twist endings are somehow less worthy. I am just concerned about the lack of quality of some twist stories. It's as if quality gets thrown aside for the sake of a joke. And please, please, everyone remember that I'm not talking about anything or anyone in specific. It's just something that struck me as i was browsing the net.

Stijn Hommes
06-18-2007, 12:38 PM
Short stories and flash are short by definition. You don't have time for long convoluted endings that take up more than half the word count. That's why they're more prone twist endings. It's not necessarily a bad thing. Assuming the author took the time to make the ending fit the story.

06-18-2007, 03:24 PM
But why use the word count as an excuse? That it's okay to cut corners, because you have so little room? I think that is why good flash is so good, so satisfying when done right--because it has all the elements of good writing, in such a short whallop. No matter what the word count, all good stories need the same elements--beginning, middle, end, character devel, show/not tell, details, quality writing (write tight, no reliance on adverbs, use all 5 senses etc) and emotional impact. Yes, less word count, less room, less development, but no matter the size of the piece, you can't skip the fundamentals of good writing and expect it to be good writing.

Flash is one of THE most challenging things to write. For these very reasons. You have to be a pretty good writer to nail a flash piece.

It's not about twist endings. If the end is the right ending, it works.

06-21-2007, 01:52 AM
I'm not ashamed to admit that I like twist endings. At least the kind of twist that leaves me saying "Woa, I should have seen that coming"; not the kind that leaves me saying "Woa, what the f? Where did that come from?"

Much of the "straight" stuff that's very short (less than 300 words--my definition) is, frankly, boring to me. It's a short window into a scene, all description and no motion. I read fiction to be entertained. When I finish a short piece, I want to think "Wow, I enjoyed that." I don't think I've ever said to myself "Wow, I'm glad I read that piece so I could appreciate its value as literature."

[But then again, I love puns. I think of them as the ultimate tribute to language.]

Disclaimer: this post is not meant to insult or in any way demean anyone or anything, nor is it aimed at any particular post or poster. (But I'm going to duck anyway)

06-21-2007, 02:05 AM
I love puns too. But it seems to me that Flash Fiction is becoming just about the pun. Like Stonetable said, there's a name for that. It's called a Feghoot. And nobody, at least it looked like that to me, was looking beyond the joke.

And no, I dont read literature and say wow i feel edified that i read something "literary". There's got to be a point, there's got to be a story. But there's more to a good read than a laugh.

There's no need to duck. :) Twist endings where you go back and say, I hsould have seen that are fine. But most twist endings that I see are the WTF kind and there's so much more to writing than that.