Friday, August 05, 2016

Flash Fiction

Flash fiction. Have you heard of it? Neither had I until I accepted my friend Luisa's invitation to attend a writer's workshop this week. Hosted through an initiative called Iquique en 100 Palabras and financed by a well-known mining company in our area, the workshop was interesting and informative. Both Luisa and I were surprised at the number of people in attendance, far more than were apparently anticipated. Thanks to a well-placed billboard, I had previously heard of Iquique en 100 Palabras and actually entered a 95-word essay into their 100-words-or-less competition a few years ago. 

However, I have to admit I had no idea there was actually a recognized literary form behind it all. To quote Wikipedia: "Flash fiction is a style of fictional literature of extreme brevity." Since some stories are merely a sentence in length, brevity might sometimes be an understatement! Alejandra Costamagna, the author who led our workshop, gave us a famous example in Ernest Hemingway's six-word story, "For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn."  

picture from Iquique en 100 Palabras Facebook page

In Spanish, flash fiction is called the microrrelato or microcuento. Costamagna informed us that it is recognized by several characteristics. Among these are brevity; expressive concentration; ingenious use of language; and sometimes playfulness or absurdity. Titles are meaningful and should complement the story. But what is perhaps most important to the genre is the use of silence or simply, what is left unsaid. Much of the interpretation is left to the reader's imagination. This quality as well as the brevity of the form may be most attractive to today's rapid-fire, social media generation.

I am an observer of people and what drew my attention during the workshop was the broad range of ages represented among those present. Seeing university students next to senior citizens with even a few young teens mixed in, reminded me that everyone has a story to tell. And having the opportunity to do so was apparently important enough to bring this large and varied group together one midweek evening. At the end of the workshop there was a time given for each person to write his or her piece of flash fiction, with the option of having it read aloud by the visiting author. It was fascinating to hear snippets of people's lives, of memories and relationships and heartache and laughter captured in just a few short phrases.

picture from Iquique en 100 Palabras Facebook page

If I was disappointed in anything, it was that the choice of pieces the author had prepared beforehand to share with us were mostly dark in tone. Almost every example was sad, covering such a range of topics as sex, suicide, politics, homelessness, immigration, familial violence and abuse. Interestingly, when we compared notes afterwards both my friend and I had felt the same way. It was a good reminder of the power of words and an encouragement to build up positively through them.

Proverbs 18:21 tells us that "Death and life are in the power of the tongue ..." Might we not say in the power of the "pen" as well? Our words and stories do matter, and it is up to us how we share them. May we find a way to glorify God through both what we say and what is left unsaid, that more hearts would be stirred to find Him.

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