Flash nonfiction brings into question the truth of a story, its creative distortion, and the writing down to the best of one’s memory and ability the facts of a story. Just as each witness to a crime remembers the event with varying perspectives, so do we remember or report a story with different angles. Flash nonfiction offers a medium for writing memoir, essays, and events remembered in a very short form.
Flash nonfiction is creative nonfiction in under approximately seven hundred and fifty words. As with prose poetry, this magical form has a wide reach and can encompass braided themes, meditative essays, and any number of experimental works. There are no strict limits to the creativity offered through this genre.
Stories are often based in real experience. Flash fiction might or might not be based in real experience, but the story can hide under its guise of fiction elements. A fantasy flash will read quite differently from flash nonfiction that does not have the luxury of hiding amid fictional pretense. The flash nonfiction will follow most of the guidelines that a flash fiction must follow except that it must stay close to the replaying of a real event. For example, a slice of life experienced but written with meaningful word choices within a limited space. As an example of the eccentricity and possibilities of this genre, take a look at the following creative nonfiction flash which won me first prize for creative nonfiction in this year’s Bacopa Literary Review:
The Linear and Circular One Sentence of Tattoo Designs over His Body
David runs through Goliath with a sword but Goliath stands strong, his sandal strap broken by the tip of steel, blood at the ankle, a few hairy hairs shaved from his knee, but he stays upright, an angel of the bottomless pit, the hero of one tattooed story with its swirly blue ink marks connecting letters over each vertebra of spine, letters that spell out “Never again” and “violence is not the way” with the word “way” spiraling down the spinal column, each lumbar protrusion covered with inky lines and letters, until the ink bleeds into Popeye opening a can of worms on the left buttock, and Olive smoking a pipe on the right buttock, the pipe smoke weaving a curly-Q whirly loop and merging into Spider man’s web on the left thigh, the web webbing its lacey stars and stripes network down and around the shins, around and around until it splatters inky blue spiders over the gastrocnemius of the left calf muscle and covers the ankles and feet with tiny Buddhas that continue under the feet and protect the soles of feet and the soul of the man, (but how on earth did he suffer through that painful tattooing?) and seen from under jeans, the feet appear dirty and garden-weary but when rolled up, like Eliot’s Prufrock on the beach, the design works magic like a waterfall works magic, a watershed of rainbow colors spreading in a rainfall of tattoo etchings across his massive shoulders, his sharp abs, pecs, scapulae, triceps, biceps, quadriceps, embellishing and fertilizing all six hundred and thirty-nine muscles, a landscape of linked vessels and lines emerging whenever he takes off his shirt, a rare occurrence, only when the gorgeous and the giants come to town and he dreads the time when he runs out of tattoo space on his skin and he must share his stories with his words instead.
Flash nonfiction must offer an essence of the human experience. Literary flash nonfiction avoids the mere onslaught of information or reportage, composition or college essay formats. It is a story by a storyteller but enmeshed in the lyrical qualities of poetry and flash fiction, the capturing of the reader’s heart and imagination, the connection to a universal experience between the reader and the writer. It is an art form, a distinct craft, demanding a clear voice that employs the medium of meaningful, tight language and compression.
Because flash nonfiction contains so much variation in form, content and possibilities, it is a surprising and addictive form. It offers a perfect medium for short pieces of memoir, written as a collection of memories or anecdotes processed in short essay form. Try it. Write a letter to a friend about an event that happened to you. Keep the letter under five hundred words, use poetic elements and creativity in conveying that memory and keep it to one memory only.
For further exploration you can read more examples of this genre in Brevity: A Journal of Concise Literary Nonfiction, edited by Dinty W. Moore. His interview reveals additional insight into writing flash nonfiction. For more information, see The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction: Advice and Essential Exercises from Respected Writers, Editors, and Teachers by Dinty W. Moore (Editor).