Jayne Anne Phillips, a former writing instructor of mine at Rutgers-Newark, and a fantastic writer of the short form, referred to the “flash” piece as “one-page fiction.” (She made these pieces famous in her impossibly good Black Tickets.) I don’t think she liked the term flash, and I know many others who despise it. I, on the other hand, think it’s the perfect word to describe how this particular form affects the reader.
It reminds me of the creepy guy lurking in the Wal-Mart parking lot, sunglasses and trench coat. His unfortunate victim is made vulnerable to a quick, frantic peek, and is then left disoriented, forced to make sense of what she just saw. It’s the speed of the event that makes it so intense, and memorable. (I should probably make it clear that I don’t condone this behavior.) Let’s take another scenario: our creepy flasher approaches someone, opens his trench, and holds it open for an interminable ten minutes. Where would the intensity be? It wouldn’t—the duration would dilute it. Oh, it’s a penis, the flashee might think, that’s all. Just a small, wrinkly penis.
[A] creepy flasher approaches someone, opens his trench, and holds it open for an interminable ten minutes. Where would the intensity be?
But that’s not how it works. And that’s not how it works for the flash story either, which sneaks up on the reader, whips open its coat revealing something ugly or beautiful or profound or sad or strange, and then ends, just as abruptly, leaving the reader to question what s/he had read. And it’s in that pondering that the story grows. It becomes.