A great craft article on using time in flash fiction with examples by Kathy Fish, Nancy Stohlman, AE Weisgerber, and many others–check it out!
Sophie van Llewyn was born in Romania. She now lives in Germany. Her prose has been published by Ambit, the 2017 & 2018 NFFD Anthologies, New Delta Review, Banshee, New South Journal etc. and has been placed in various competitions – including TSS (you can read her Flash Fiction ‘The Cesarean’ here). Her novella-in-flash, ‘Bottled Goods,’ set against the backdrop of communist Romania was published by Fairlight Books.
Time in Flash Fiction
by Sophie van Llewyn
Flash fiction is an exercise in brevity: this is nothing new. But this doesn’t mean that flash fiction has to limit its temporal reach to a short span of time. Flash fiction can stretch far beyond the few pages (or the fraction of a page) it occupies. It can encompass hours, days, months, a lifetime or even more, as we’ll see in the examples listed below. They illustrate the various techniques that can be employed to make time dilate in flash fiction — or rather contract to a few dozens or hundred words. It is no small feat, and the result of this kind of compression can have a staggering effect on the reader.
There’s also another aspect of time in flash fiction to consider: because of the low word count, there are only so many words than can be used in order to establish a timeline. It’s an art in itself choosing those very words that tell us more about the character’s situation, about his or her personality, while giving us a feel of the atmosphere of the era (this is especially important in the case of historical fiction), or just placing us in time. It’s the ability to choose from all the spectrum of the character’s activities and surroundings: the ones that tell us most about the character’s set of circumstances. Stripping an entire lifetime down to a few details — this is a skill which entire books could be written about.
In this essay, I only aim to showcase some of the ways time can be used in flash fiction, using the accustomed examples that are free to read on the Internet. Think of this like a door, setting your imagination free, allowing you to be creative with the use of time in your own work.