(Editor’s Note: This post was first published on 25 September 2008.)
Let’s talk about form. While I was working on my Master’s I taught as a Teaching Assistant two terms of Composition and one term of Creative Writing and one term of Fiction Writing. In the Fiction Writing class I tried to explain in simple, logical language several elements of the short story that I had found out about through constant experimentation. Experimentation can be a very slow process. So, here are a few insights about the form of the short story no matter what its length is.
The form of the short story is the setup, the buildup and the payoff. That’s it. Some writers are more skilled than others at hiding this form but it’s there all right and I would guess that this form has not changed for successful story writing since our ancestors painted stories on the walls of caves.
Now a piece of fiction can be successful without this form but what you have is not a short story. It’s a sketch. Publications that are looking for short stories probably will not publish a sketch. So, make sure your flash fiction is a short story and not a sketch.
One more thing; the payoff must signal some sort of change has taken place. Without this movement, this change your fiction is still a sketch. A short story is a journey that starts at point A and it cannot end at point A. In flash fiction you just have to get to point B. Point G is for short stories and point Z is for the novel.