I began my creative writing career as a personal essayist and shifted to narrative nonfiction, exhilarated in both cases by the absence of the rules I was used to obeying when I wrote scholarly articles about literature. I didn’t need to know where I was going when I started. I didn’t need to resolve what I’d set in motion. I could digress. I could make imaginative leaps. I could land somewhere I hadn’t anticipated.
Part of what attracted me to flash fiction is a similar freedom from constraints. A small space allows the writer to hint at so much without stating it. Character, backstory, the trajectory of plot, which after all can go in many directions. Leaving that up to the reader’s imagination opens up possibilities that longer forms might short circuit.
Myths and fairy tales provide a rich repository of plots, often about young women who rebel against authority, who are pursued by predators or rescuers who resemble predators, who pursue happy endings that sometimes elude them. I enjoyed imagining the potential arcs in “Girls in the Woods,” a glimpse of two girls reacting to danger. Just as there are many versions of old folk and fairy tales, there are many paths in these woods, many directions that this unresolved plot could take. Where are they headed?
In “After Dinner,” I played with different versions of the same plot. You could say that “After Dinner” has a provisional resolution. The woman has had various reactions to her drunken husband in the past, but tonight she sits at the kitchen table, serene and unruffled, reading a book. We can see a change, even though her husband doesn’t. Perhaps the woman is on the cusp of making further changes in her life. We don’t know who she is or what form that change might take. Her situation could apply to many women. Each of the women, each of their stories would be different but also the same.
You would think that the creative nonfiction writer would be restricted by the requirement to stick to the facts (nothing but the truth), and that the flash writer would be restricted by length requirements (nothing longer than 500 words, say, or 750 words, or 1000 words). But my creative nonfiction has always detoured into the realm of the imagined—for example, two alternate lives for a beloved aunt who committed suicide, a scenario where the delusions my mother suffered in dementia come true, a resurrection of Mary Magdalene after seeing her tibia. I can’t seem to stick to nothing but the facts. And my flash, well it seems to be getting smaller while the blank spaces filled by the reader get larger. In the finite space of flash fiction, the possibilities become infinite.
JACQUELINE DOYLE lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she teaches at California State University East Bay. She has recent flash in Little Fiction/Big Truths, Post Road, Wigleaf, New Flash Fiction Review, and The Collagist, and an award-winning flash chapbook (The Missing Girl) with Black Lawrence Press. Find her online at jacquelinedoyle.com and on twitter @doylejacq.