When I post my flash fiction to Facebook I often get an interesting response. People will make the comment that they want to know more. What comes next, how does it end? But there is no more! There’s no more coming from my mind, that’s all there is to the story. You need to take it ‘as is’.
Flash fiction is, by definition, anything under 1,500 words. Most of my work runs between 600 to 300 words (that’s how I got my goal of 500 words a day). So I guess technically I could add more words and still have my work considered flash fiction, but if that’s all there is, then that’s all there is! I can’t add any more than that.
I guess I get defensive because in the back of my mind there is a constant accusatory debate. Is the shortness of the piece because of artistic choice, or because of laziness? Do I leave the piece incomplete because I just don’t want to do the work to finish it? Or, do I leave the piece because it looks so good as is, and I don’t want to ruin it with more words? If it looks so good, does that mean it’s ‘finished’, even if it doesn’t have a traditional ending?
Here’s a sample of a piece that got a lot of ‘what happens next’ feedback. This was published on Facebook about a year ago and though it got a fair share of ‘likes’, there were a lot of comments about wanting more.
The phone rang and she looked at the caller ID. It was her sister, and since she called so rarely, Cheryl decided this time to answer it.
“Hey – “
She was cut off by a deep, guttural wailing on the other end of the line.
“What?! What happened?”
The wailing continued for just a moment, then Carla caught her breath. All she could say was “Steve…”
She didn’t need to go any further.
“No, no!” screamed Cheryl. “No! No!” She threw the phone across the room. She wasn’t going to let the tears come, because it wasn’t true. Whatever was on the other end of the line wasn’t true. Her brother was fine, there was nothing wrong. He had won the struggle against HIV, having beaten it to remission. But, there was always the chance that it would come back, and when it did it was powerful and quick. She was very close to her brother, and that closeness protected him from any harm. She decided that it was fact and picked up the phone. She pressed the red button and disconnected herself from the call.
By then Cheryl’s husband came into the room. “What? What happened?”
“Nothing.” Her laugh was like tin.
“Why were you yelling? And why did you throw your phone?”
She ignored the first question. “Oh, no, it just slipped.”
She could tell that he knew she was lying, but he slowly decided not to challenge her on it.
The phone rang again and he could see the picture of Carla, smiling and happy, come up on the screen. Cheryl sent the call to voice mail.
“Was that your sister?” he asked
“Oh, yeah,” she tried to sound casual, but came off as trying to sound casual. She didn’t care. “She just wanted to talk about something.”
“What was it?”
“Oh, nothing important.” She started to walk away, thereby ending the conversation.
He stared at her as she walked away, clearly trying to assess her emotional state. He didn’t believe her, and she let her feigned apathy fill the void of his unasked questions.
Moments later, his phone rang, and she knew without looking that it was Carla, hunting Cheryl down, determined to break through and deliver her heart wrenching news.
The above piece got lots of demands for continuation. Maybe one day I can drag it out to something more, but for now, this is all there is. I think any work can be revisited and potentially revised into something with greater length, but that’s up to the author. I don’t feel the need to expand on this piece at all. I think it stands on its own just fine as is.
And I think that’s what it comes down to – the confidence to say ‘this is fine the way it is’ regardless of input, external or internal. Maturity as a creative comes when you can make the definitive decision that a piece is complete, and then have the backbone to defend that decision without compromise. You don’t have to be a jerk about it, but you do have to stand up for yourself, and your work.