Tag Archives: flash fiction

Flash Fiction I argue Poetry

Ernest Hemingway and Flash Fiction

Recently, I have read a few criticisms of what is currently referred to as flash fiction. Flash fiction is any short story that is really short; less than 500 words, depending on the publisher. Criticisms generally revolve around complaints about our society’s lack of attention span. Readers, the argument goes, cannot focus long enough on something to read a normal length short story. Or, worse yet, writers cannot hold their own focus long enough to craft a story of sufficient length.


Flash fiction is derided as merely one scene or vignette from within what should be a longer story. How can anyone built up a plot or characters a reader can understand and sympathize with? True, quality, stories need some essential elements and writers cannot, cannot, I have read, build any such depth into a story that is less than one page long.


As with any complaint one can make or any rule a professor or writer tells you to follow, you need not look far for proof against that complaint or rule. Stephen King tells us to avoid adverbs in his book on how to write and yet there are tens of adverbs in that very book. To be fair, I would argue that his real point is that the average writer uses adverbs too often and he figures that if he tells the reader to ‘never’ use them that the reader will expend great effort to comply, improving their writing. The argument, as I see it, is that instead of writing that a character was ‘hugely incompetent’, there is another word that can describe that extreme level of incompetence, maybe ‘inept’. The hallmark of good writing is economy of words. Never say in a paragraph what you can say in a sentence and never say in a sentence what you can say in a word. Adding an ‘ly’ to a verb is lazy writing if there is another word that can capture the same message a writer is attempting to convey.


I heard an interview with Ezra Pound years ago. In it, he relates the story of how upon the first day of his arrival to Paris he arose out of a subway station to be confronted by a park filled with the beautiful faces of women and children and flowers in bloom. He says that he absorbed that scene in one gestalt moment, walked to his hotel room and wrote a two page poem about what he saw. Six months later, he produced his famous, In a Station in the Metro:


The apparition of these faces in the crowd:
Petals, on a wet, black bough.


Believe it or not, this poem marked the groundbreaking moment of his career as an innovator. You do need to know why unless you love poetry and, if you do, you can find answers to the ‘why’ elsewhere. My aim is simply to illustrate how a two page poem can be boiled down to its essence. This economy holds true for all forms of writing.

As to this complaint about ‘flash fiction’ ‘short shorts’ or ‘nano writing’, we need look no further for the glaring exception that proves this complaint bootless than Papa Hemingway. Ernest Hemingway’s writing is quality not because he writes about bullfights or big game hunting or fascists in Italy in 1930. Hemingway is considered great for the parcity of words needed to convey his story to the reader. To this point, when asked once what was he considered his best work, he said it was an unpublished piece that he wrote to win a bet at the Algonquin in New York while dining with other writers. The short story needed a beginning, a middle, and an end were the rules of the bet. Hemingway claimed he could write a short story in only six words. When the bet was taken by his fellow writers, Hemingway wrote this down on a napkin from the table, saying it was an ad in the classifieds:


For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

Flash Fiction


When I walked in the house, I could hear Pitt talking to himself in the kitchen. I have not always shown up at the best time but always at least in the nick of time.

“She’s driving me crazy. She wants every little piece I work on to be perfect before I can move on to the next. I can’t work this way. Am I supposed to stand around doing nothing until the right parts or fixtures show up? Am I?” He turned to stare at me fixedly. He was close, I could tell; like he was on that crossing from England to the mainland all those years ago when we first met. He was close to stircrazy then too.

That was when we met, on the crossing. Back then he was Brad Pitt. This was before there was another Brad Pitt out there in the world whom everyone knew. During the course of the last few moves Pitt’s name became what it is: Pitt. When someone would ask if it were his first or last name, the response would come: just Pitt.

We stepped outside on to the flagstone patio. Pitt pressed his hands onto the top of a wrought iron chair and leaned into it as if trying to plant it into the stone beneath. Pushing himself off, he turned to face me. “What do you think I should do?”

“Wait a minute,” I said. His face relaxed and he rocked back on his heels. He came up short. “Wait…wait…” I repeated. I’d been feeling the moisture increase out here and had driven through the storm on my way up the mountain.

The approaching storm began as an ever-loudening hiss. I could see Pitt’s shoulder’s noticeably tighten. “Wait,” I repeated. The first drops snuck up behind him, overcame him, and consumed me all within the space of three seconds.

“Yeah?” He said it as half-question, half-plea against the reality of it.

“Yes,” I said as confirmation. Pitts face went slack: total awareness of his surroundings and acceptance. It was time to leave. This was not working. She was not the one.

“Why?” he asked in hope of a reprieve of the verdict.

“You know why.” I continued to hold his eyes, not letting him go.

“Shit….yeah. I should have known when I saw you this time. It was so good to see you and I was having such a bad day; I didn’t put two and two together. How do you always know?”

I can always tell by the tone of his voice when we talk on the phone what stage of a relationship he is in but I say, “I just know.”

“Should we wait? She should be back soon. She just ran to the store for cigarettes.”

“That’s your call. I’ll do whatever.”

Pitt drew his slackened shoulders up again. “I’ll tell her.” There was a resolve in his eye that was not there a minute ago and I knew his old self was back again.

“This won’t be easy now,” I said, “you’ve changed back to who you were when you met her. She won’t want to let go of you if she notices.”

”She changed me though. How can I stay?”

“That’s not what I’m saying. She will see what attracted her, the old you, and she will make it hard because that’s who she wants.”

“OK. Noted. Go start the car,” he said. And then, almost as an afterthought, threw in, “She can keep the house.” And he walked away into the kitchen. Out front, I heard a car door slam and decided to take the route around the side of the house.

Flash Fiction

The Watering Can

The two-gallon, galvanized watering can looked out of place sitting in the open on the otherwise manicured front yard. The house behind it sat on an level two acre plot. A white two-story Colonial with a slate roof and copper gutters, the house had the traditional black shutters accompanying each window. The first floor was raised slightly allowing for basement windows which were well hidden by the encircling shrubbery. The three steps and a landing giving access to the front door were all granite and covered by a portico in the federal style.

The property was rectangular, twice the length as its depth. The house, similarly proportional to the property also sat length-wise to the street. A neatly manicured lawn stretched fifty feet from the house to the curb, interrupted only by a large Sycamore, three rock gardens, and the slate walkway that stretched from the sidewalk to the front door. Up the left side of the property sat the cobblestone driveway which, after its fifty foot run-up, turned right and sloped down, down, below grade-level and into the basement garage atop which sat the home’s library. The edging along the granite walkway and on either side of the drive was clean and crisp, as if it had been tended by professionals. Given the neighborhood, one would find it most unlikely that the owners would have the time or inclination to perform this maintenance themselves.

But that can, that galvanized watering can, sat in the dappled shade under the Sycamore tree in the front yard not ten feet from the largest rock garden. From the street, one could clearly see that grass had grown up around it. The grass was high enough to lead one to the conclusion that it had not been moved for at least three mowings. And if one were to lift the can, they would expect to see the grass underneath white and dying from a lack of sunlight. This lone, disjointed, unkempt resident greeted passersby in this coiffed Greenwich neighborhood; no clue left as to how or why it was so glaringly exempt from the ministrations given the rest of the land.