Charting Mystical Lands
How to Critique Flash Fiction
by contributing writer Hannah Macafee
One of the best things about writing is creating a world, but the best thing about reading that work is getting to sling on your proverbial hiking backpack and explore the world that has been given to you. But what do you do when the world you’ve decided to take a jaunt through, though small, is flipped on its head and pulsating with unknown themes and colors? How do you critique the wild world known as Flash Fiction (FF)?
Giving criticism to a genre that should be, by definition, rule-less and experimental may seem counterproductive, but in practice it helps FF writers just as much as it helps its ever growing community. Keeping this fact in mind is vital as it gives you a goal to achieve and clarifies that your intent is not to be rude to the writer, but rather to help them and the genre grow. Now that you have the right mind set, it is important to come up with “trail-markers” of what flash fiction should be (and by elimination, what it is not). Keep in mind, that there will always be wonderful exceptions but for the first time critic of FF, these points should be your compass.
Flash fiction does not equal short story
One of the biggest mistakes a writer will often make is thinking that micro fiction and flash fiction are synonymous. While both are defined as incredibly short works of prose, they have some differences. FF is attributed more towards stylized writing while a micro fiction’s main intent is to tell a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end. Flash fiction should be focused more on creating an atmosphere (more on this later) than telling a plot.
Abstraction should not pass theme
My own personal definition of FF is poetry without borders, but even that definition leaves room for conflict. When reading FF, it is important that the piece not get too abstract; it’s a sliding scale of art and story. It’s like you’re a bee looking for nectar: if the flower has too many flashy colors and weirdly shaped petals, how on earth are you going to be able to get to the center of the flower where the pollen waits to be picked up and spread? In a similar fashion, FF should not be impossible to decode.
Look at the structure
So you’ve defined what Flash fiction is (and isn’t), and you’ve observed word choice; what else is there to look at? Well, another area that a FF author can toy around with is structure. Unlike standard short stories, FF does not have have to adhere to the major structure; it can forge its own path both in style and in physical format. If a FF piece is falling just short of what it could be, try suggesting a change in the fiction’s direction. This could give the writer more to play around with and help them come up with new ideas on their own for how to improve their work, without doing a complete overhaul on their intended effect.
If there’s no impact, there’s no “fiction”
This final part is the most important part to remember, not just for Flash fiction, but for all prose. You should always be getting something back from what you’re reading. I stated earlier that FF is more atmospheric than plot-driven, and while that is true, it should still leave you with some impact. With that in mind, “impact” is in the eye of the beholder. I personally feel that if a piece has simply left you “feeling good”, then that’s ok. But if you can’t come up with a reason as to why it has left such an impression, then it is time for a reread and maybe a reconsideration, so that you can do the author, the piece, and yourself a full service.
There is more to take into account when critiquing FF than what I have stated, and I’m sure there are a few paradoxes in my own above suggestions that go against how others critique flash fiction. Do you think there are important points or additions that have been left off? Let us know in the comments below.
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by first official Nevada Poet Laureate Mildred Breedlove who spent three years writing a poem about the State of Nevada.