Flash Fiction without the Pain

6 minute read
Author: Kathy Hoyle

There’s no denying that flash, when exquisitely written, taps into emotional truths that can leave you reeling, your heart smashed to smithereens. Flash writers are skillful and I’m often in awe of their emotional bravery.

But what if always reading or writing painful emotional truths becomes a little too much? Do we always want to be emotionally overwhelmed?
We have a whole plethora of novel genres: romcom, crime, fantasy etc that I can easily categorise. I can suit my reading choices to my mood, but searching for specifically uplifting flash fiction proves harder.

For some reason there seems to be a lack of balance in flash fiction. The scales are tipped firmly on the side of harrowing emotional truths. Lit mags are encouraging more and more CNF submissions and flash seems to have become the go-to conduit for cathartic, painful writing.

But surely, we should at least be attempting to encompasses ALL emotional truths, not just those that hurt us?

Recently it’s become apparent that much of my reading is actually bringing me down. I need some soul balm. Not one for schmalz (you can keep your chicken soup for the soul), I feel like I’ve swallowed too big a slice of the trauma pie. I need a little sweetness to balance
things out.

Gif of a cartoon unicorn catching eight plates of delicious cherry pie.

I looked back through my own flash writing. And yup, you guessed it, it’s mostly based around painful memories and experiences, sometimes fictionalised, often not. So, Why are we so drawn to trauma when it comes to packing a punch?

None of my own pieces explored any emotional truths that weren’t painful! Where were the stories embracing peace, love, achievement, balance, friendship, pleasure, spiritual attainment, healing, unadulterated fun? I seemed to have thoroughly disregarded anything
that gave me the warm and fuzzies.

Somehow, I’d come to the conclusion that the only powerful truths were the ones that hurt. It seems that lighter emotions are often dismissed as ‘fluff’ pieces; that they somehow have lesser literary value. But shouldn’t all human truths have equal value? After all, we as humans are informed just as much by our joyful emotional experiences as we are by our painful ones.

What about those days when I’m feeling stressed or anxious, or just not equipped to read ‘pain’ – should I turn my back on flash? If I want to read something that soothes rather than startles, does that mean I don’t want exquisite lyrical writing or complex layers? Of course not! I want all of those things, but maybe some days, put simply, I just want to feel happy! And when I do feel happy, why the hell shouldn’t I write happy? Who says flash should be painful or so literary that it can’t be joyful? What the hell constitutes ‘literary’ writing anyway? (Cue a whole different discussion!)

Graham Mort, in Finding form in Short Fiction, says, “Writing is about liberty and a list of prescriptions has always struck me as a particularly
dismal approach,”

There is truly nothing worse than prescriptive writing. My advice to you (and myself) is: it’s time to break free! When it comes to flash, stop bloody worrying about what you think you should be writing and start writing what you want to write… Or, more importantly, write the stuff you’d like to read.

After all, there’s only so much pain a reader can endure before they are compelled to look away. Emotional resonance can be powerful when you touch on human truths that are both terrible AND beautiful.

So how do we break the cycle of writing depressing, dreary flash?

David Galef has some answers. In Brevity: A Flash Fiction Handbook, he actively encourages writers to explore different ‘types’ of flash:

“First of all don’t disdain a type of writing just because it’s a type. Most readers like genre stories. The biggest fiction market around is romance.”

He suggests you get playful and don’t be afraid to write freely in whatever genre you damn well please. His techniques include trying your hand at romance whilst avoiding the traditional boy-meets-girl scenarios,:‘think interspecies, think multiple partners, switch to an unusual locale (an underwater tryst)’ or perhaps merge two genres, eg. write a western set on the moon, or maybe a horror love story. The idea is to be playful, because that’s always going to breed originality.

Give it a go! Here are few prompts from me that might help get you started:

  • Try some ekphrastic writing – use a painting that moved you deeply as a starting point – respond to its beauty.
  • Think of your favourite piece of music, something that soothes or uplifts you – now personify it, let it become your friend, teacher or lover.
  • Begin with a pastoral setting, eg: a calm blue ocean or birdsong in a sunlit glade
  • Go sensory – think about your favourite smell or taste, hot chocolate and sweet waffles or daisies on a summer afternoon
  • Write a love letter or song to your sweet first love
  • Focus on uplifting images: a baby’s starfish fingers, the deep wise pool of an elephant’s eye, a grandfather’s smile.
  • Where is your paradise? On an angel’s wing, a Christmas morning, dancing on a rainbow’s edge?
  • Give your inner critic a voice, turn it on an old enemy and make the reader snort with laughter at your snark.

You get the picture – channel ANYTHING that gives you the warm and fuzzies!

Gif of Bob Ross gently stroking and kissing a little baby deer

Finally, I put a call out on Twitter to seek out emotionally resonant uplifting flash and my fellow Flash writer Katie Isham responded: “I would love to read more humorous or uplifting flash. I’m tired of the angst and sadness.”

It seems I wasn’t alone.

The wonderful flash fiction community also responded. Below you’ll find some fabulous examples of flash that they pointed out all embrace the entire gambit of emotional truths, including love, hope, peace and joy. Some are written with humour, others are lyrical and poetic, all are excellent!

So, my rallying cry is be like these guys! Go against the grain, go write something beautiful! I’ll certainly be giving it a try from now on! And if any editors out there want to start a literary magazine devoted entirely to uplifting flash, I’ll be the first in line to subscribe.

Granny and the Butterflies by Rebecca Harrison

Pen by Neil Clark

Book Club Dip by Myna Chang

Evidently Lovestruck by J Y Saville

The Eight Year Hope of Us (As Seen on TV) by Lucy Goldring

My Father Comforts Me in the Form of Birds by Sharon Telfer

The Wedding by Robert Boucheron

Facts About Flamingos by Katie Oliver

Unrequited Zombie Love by Michael McCourt

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