In high school, however, I learned a long story could eat up valuable layout space and, well, just plain bore people. As news section editor, I had to condense or cut sentences from articles to fit in text columns and around graphics -- even when I cheated and decreased the text from 10 to 9 point font. I also remember the heavy feeling I'd get when any of my classmates said, "Your story was really long, but it was good!" The compliment felt like an apology rather than praise.
My professors were more liberal when it came to how long a creative writing piece should be. By then, I'd stumbled upon a new challenge: carrying out a full, structurally feasible story plot. Maybe my issues with writing stories that were too long had bred insecurity in my writing ability, whereas when I was younger I was happy to just write. By this point, I was having trouble concluding my stories. I'd write up to the climax with relative ease, but how to end my stories stumped me. My endings always read rushed and hashed together just to finish the story. If I was having such a hard time writing short stories, there was no way I could ever write a novel like I always wanted. I've about given up on long fiction since then.
What introduced me to short fiction forms was actually fan fiction "drabbles" that were about 100 words long. Judging by word count, I didn't think anything of substance could actually be written within that little text. I'd read snippets of moments I could actually imagine fitting into my favorite TV or comic character's canon histories, though. I was awed at the storytelling power of a single paragraph and started writing my own 100 or so word pieces.
One of my favorite stories in Volume 7 Number 2, NANO Fiction's latest issue, is Rosemary Royston's "Ben Affleck Is My Lover" because the much-scrutinized actor is portrayed as a symbol of the narrator's yearning for her significant other. The narrator obsessively lists how each of her lover's physical features are long like Affleck's. Variations of "long" take up eight of the eighty-three words and follow right after each other. Usually, successive repetition like that irritates me, but here it builds up the tension and longing for this absent lover. It makes me as a reader wonder what became of him and the narrator and how that led to her projecting feelings onto an A-list celebrity. The piece is a character-driven story that touches upon feelings a reader can relate to: desire, sadness, nostalgia.
There's debate on how many words makes a piece flash, and some schools even divide that into sub-categories based on shorter word counts. Most literary magazines I read or have looked into consider 1000 words or less as flash fiction. However many words flash "really" is doesn't matter. A good flash piece can tell a story in fine, targeted detail that its sensual and emotional impact are magnified beyond its constrained length. It seems easy to write -- 300, 500, or 1000 words, no sweat! But you have to choose your moment, come up with details, and determine how to use them to maximize the impact of your short narrative. As my years old NANO Fiction contest submission would attest to in its continued work-in-progress state, it takes time, practice, and editing to yield results just as any other story form requires. Perhaps learning that through experience helped foster the appreciation for flash that I now have.