Flash fiction challenges establishment, enlivens college creative writing

June 7 2006


"Flash fiction" is tearing down the walls that have long stood between writer and audience, and is helping fiction writing stage a comeback on college campuses, says an Indiana State University English professor.

"Breathing new life into the age-old craft of wordsmithing is the phenomenon of flash or sudden fiction," said Doug Martin, Ph.D., ISU assistant professor of English and faculty advisor for Arion, the ISU student creative writing association.

Martin describes flash fiction as works with fewer than 2,000 words, and preferably with between 500 and 1,500 words.

"Research today says not to print something over 2,000 words or people won't read it," he said. "It's scary to think our whole society is so attention-deficit disordered that we are calling a short story something that can fit on a coffee mug."

On the upside, however, this "micro fiction" is making writing more energetic and appealing to the average reader, Martin says.

"Walt Whitman wanted a vast readership for his writing, but that didn't happen during his lifetime because his free verse ramblings weren't inviting to the common person," said Martin, author of "A Study of Walt Whitman's Mimetic Prosody: Free-Bound and Full Circle," published by Edwin Mellen Press in 2004. "Flash fiction gives everyday readers an entry point into literature that is inviting rather than intimidating.

"Since fiction is getting shorter, some people who normally wouldn't read a longer novel will pick up a collection of short stories."

Martin says the trend started in the 1980s with a book called "Sudden Fiction," but really took off with the popularization of the Internet. Flash fiction has made its way from the Internet into the hallowed halls of learning within a short period of time, mostly due to its persistence and appeal, he says.

"It isn't going away and creative writers and readers enjoy this new genre," Martin says, "so I tell students in my Introduction to Creative Writing class to take a crack at it."

Megan Anderson, ISU junior English major and creative writing minor from Knox, Ind., wrote her first flash fiction piece - about a woman sniper killing her first mark - this year for her creative writing class.

"It allows me to write about really dramatic situations that take place in a matter of minutes," Anderson said. "It stretches my writing ability. I'm definitely going to keep with this genre, because it's my best chance to get published."

While many people may try their hand at flash fiction, writing "good" flash fiction can be a challenge, says Christy Effinger, ISU graduate student in English from Evansville.

"Like poetry, flash fiction requires a writer to be economical with words and to make sure that each word is exactly right," Effinger said. "Flash fiction is enjoyable to read because it can deliver the power of a short story without requiring much time from the reader."

Micro fiction is meeting people where they spend their time - not in libraries, but on the Internet, Effinger says.

"Because of the popularity of flash fiction on the Internet, more people can experience literary writing even if it's only in bite-sized pieces," she said. "Perhaps this will whet readers' appetites for quality fiction of all lengths."


With the emergence of flash fiction Web sites, writers are finding a voice that has been denied them in traditional literary journals, Martin says.

"The internet is destroying the hierarchy of the literary publishing industry," Martin said. "In order to get new voices heard, editors are realizing they don't have to have the money that some of these organizations and journals have; they can publish high-quality work online."

Martin's flash fiction pieces have appeared in the print literary magazine, Sleepingfish (issue 0.875), out of New York; and on Elimae.com.

Martin says that Elimae.com, which has received more than 700,000 hits between April 2005 and March 2006, is the most popular and progressive online site for flash fiction.

Martin provides a forum of his own for flash writers on his creative writing site, Snowvigate.com. Having just received a Promising Scholar grant from ISU, Martin is compiling and editing an anthology of the best flash fiction and prose poetry which have appeared in online journals over the past 10 years. The work will be published by Snowvigate Press.

An anthology of this type is important in order to recognize the work of writers who are mostly published online, Martin says.

"Online writing is snubbed by many," Martin said. "The MLA [Modern Language Association] bibliography that comes out every year says that a work must be printed to be included. They don?t acknowledge online writing. Flash fiction is published mostly online, so this is a way for young, unestablished writers to break through the hierarchy."

Martin also is in the process of submitting a book proposal on the relationship between prose poetry and flash fiction to Edwin Mellen Press, the publisher of his first book.


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Contact: Doug Martin, assistant professor of English, Indiana State University, (812) 237-3157 or dmartin21@isugw.indstate.edu

Writer: Katie Spanuello, media relations assistant director, Indiana State University, (812) 237-3790 or kspanuello@isugw.indstate.edu

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"Flash fiction" -- works with fewer than 2,000 words -- is tearing down the walls that have long stood between writer and audience, and is helping fiction writing stage a comeback on college campuses, says Doug Martin, ISU English professor who teaches the craft.

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