Today I’d like to share a post about how genre fiction lends itself to the short form, from prolific flash fiction writer and National Flash Fiction Day organiser extraordinaire, Calum Kerr. There’s also a fantastic story at the end. Enjoy!
Yesterday, over on Nettie Thomson’s blog, I talked about how I had turned away from writing horror stories until flash-fiction steered me back to the dark side. That got me thinking about flash-fictions and how they work for genre writing.
It’s an interesting issue. I have read, and written, a lot of flash-fictions which might be considered ‘literary’ or at least ‘realist’ in that they occur in the real, recognisable world.
To a large extent, flash-fictions often rely on the reader’s understanding of the world so that when something is referred to or implied, there is no lack of understanding, and the reader provides the necessary extra information from their own knowledge. When using this kind of shorthand, there isn’t always time for world-building or setting up complex scenarios, such as those needed in science-fiction and fantasy writing.
However, if the writer assumes an informed audience, then this can be overcome. I’m not simply talking about an audience well-versed in the particular genre of the story, but an intelligent audience who can make the same leap that you, as the writer, makes when creating the story. Small details, as in any flash, can convey a huge amount, and the rest falls into place by extrapolation.
One of the problems that a number of writers have – and something I see a lot in the work of those just starting out – is an assumption (to be fair, usually unconscious) that the reader is not quite as clever or clued up as you, the writer, and so things need to be explained. This leads to sprawling narratives where everything needs to be said two or three times, just to make sure the reader isn’t getting lost.
When I write flash, I assume the reader is keeping up. If they get lost, well, they can always read it again. The stories are short, it won’t take long.
And that, for me, is why genre stories can work so well in flash-fiction. You can create, not just a version of this world, but a version of any world. You can do it in a few words, and with a few salient details, and the pictures are then painted on the canvas of the reader’s imagination. If I mention a green Renault Clio in a ‘realist’ story, then anyone who’s ever seen one of those will be picturing the same thing. If I mention ‘a sleeper ship, plying the stars, filled with a frozen population’ then everyone reading will either know what I’m talking about or be able to work it out, but each individual will see a different ship, with a different layout, with the frozen bodies stored in different ways.
As a writer, using flash-fiction to write genre stories, I can use a larger and more varicoloured palette, and at the same time make it much more personal for each reader.
So, does flash-fiction work for genre writing?
Calum Kerr is a writer, editor, lecturer and director of National Flash-Fiction Day in the UK. He lives in Southampton with his wife – the writer, Kath Kerr – their son and a menagerie of animals. His new collection of flash-fictions, Lost Property, is now available from Cinder House.
Read on for a great example of genre flash…
By Calum Kerr
“This area is non-operational!” came the calm voice over the speaker.
Injit was not calm. He was running for his life.
Behind him the bulkhead door shot closed with a blast of air that wanted to knock him from his feet. He rode it, letting it carry him, and then planted his feet and kept going.
A crash and roar rocked the station as the section behind him crumpled and surrendered to the vacuum. Fuel cells detonated and tremors rocked the floor under Injit. He staggered and bounced against the wall, but he stayed on his feet and carried on.
There had been no warning. He didn’t know what had happened. A momentary hole in the shield? A micro-meteor just too large and travelling just too fast to be stopped? It didn’t matter now. The imperative was to get away from the rolling collapse and get safe.
Gravity shifted under him and the floor became a slope. Injit dropped forward, his palms hitting the floorplates and skidding in blood. He ignored the pain and scrabbled forward, clawing his escape.
If he could reach the central hub, he could get to the shuttle and away. If the collapse stabilised he could return and begin repairs. If not, there was enough food, water and air in the shuttle to last him six weeks, long enough for help to come if he was lucky. But first he had to get there.
He clambered up and into the next section, sprawling over the raised threshold into the normal gravity on the far side. He dragged his feet after him, pressed them to the ridge to boost himself upwards as the door flashed down just missing his heel. It was followed by the calm voice repeating its warning, barely audible over the crumple-crash of collapsing metal.
Injit’s legs were starting to thrum in tune with the collapsing station, but he staggered on stiff legs and kept moving forward.
He was nearing the next section, just one away from the hub, when the lights started to flicker.
“This area is… This… non… This… Th-th-th-thhhrrrrrrrr…”
In the frantic strobing, Injit slowed, and then an arc of electricity grounded to the plates in front of him with a bang. Injit pulled himself to a stop and watched as the corridor between him and the hub was lit by a lightning storm.
He looked back, but all was dark behind him. The sounds of creaking and crumpling were continuing. He couldn’t go back. He couldn’t stay here.
He faced forward, took a deep breath and thought of home.
What do you think? Does genre work in flash? Comments welcome, as always.