I've been getting back to my roots, sort of—being the editor in chief of jmww, I don't read as many submissions as I used to, and those that come to my desk have been carefully screened by the other editors. So it's been fun to get back to the slush pile as Smokelong's editor of the week.
I'm always fascinated by what writers write about. There are so many different ideas, so many powerful stories one comes across as an editor, and if you're a writer, you should absolutely volunteer to read for a journal. You also get a gauge of where you are as a writer against the general submission pool, not just the stories that have been accepted. Patterns begin to emerge with the stories, and one I have noticed with reading flash submissions exclusively for the past few days is that flash fiction is still sort of a mystery to many, including me—how long it should be, what it should entail, when a story is "finished."
I have re-examined my understanding of flash fiction this week, and I find it remains largely unchanged. I think, regardless of length, that a story cannot be an anecdote, or, because it's short, not have characterization or some kind of tension. A story can't have a beginning and not an end. And I wonder if people use length as a way to cheat on the elements of a good story or begin a story and then cut it off at 1000 words because the limit of "flash" has been reached. It's hard to say. But short is not synonymous with "simple": short fiction can be one of the hardest genres to write because there are fewer words to create a powerful, believable world. Every word must count. Make them count. Strip away those adjectives, don't talk about the weather (unless the story is about weather), don't waste time on backstory. The moment is now; seize it: what image should I walk away with? What about your story is going to keep me up at night?
That said, there are a lot of powerful stories coming in that do just that: keep them coming. I want this to be one of the hardest decisions of my life.