I had such an amazing time giving a flash fiction workshop to the members of the Herstry Journal. We did some generative writing, talked about some flash analysis, and looked at ways to revise a flash piece. The participants asked a lot of phenomenal questions and that generated a lot of questions.
One question we discussed, and did not come up with a definitive answer, was “What is a story?” What is a story? Who gets to decide? Is it a piece with a full narrative? In flash, that’s not necessarily true. After all, flash pieces are often about a moment in time and some of them leave enough ambiguity at the end, the reader has to figure out what really happened.
A story is as simple as a retelling of events. It’s a snapshot of a moment. It doesn’t necessarily have to have a tidily wrapped up ending, but it should have closure of some sort. If you read a lot of flash fiction, you’ll begin to find story arcs in even the smallest pieces, even if the arc doesn’t seem to be there at first.
So is that the answer? A story is a narrative about events that carries an arc?
I think we could debate about the definition of a story. For me, I want to know what makes a powerful story? What makes you stop at the end of a piece and think about it after?
I remember the first time I read Margaret Atwood’s Stone Mattress collection. The first time I read it, I just devoured it. But the second time, I had to stop after each story and appreciate the nuances.
The first story in Gaynor Jones’ book “Among These Animals” was so good I had to pause for a moment after I finished it, read it again, and just think about it for a few minutes before I went on.
What is the quality that makes a story give an emotional sucker punch? It’s different for every person and it’s probably more undefinable than the overall concept of what defines a story. To me, a quality story is one that doesn’t give me everything. It makes me work for it. It makes me fill in the lines and determine what I believe happens outside of what is said.
Maybe that’s why I love flash fiction so much. It can’t reveal everything because it doesn’t have the space to do so. Flash fiction forces authors to choose their words carefully and to leave the reader wanting just a little more.