Here’s an interesting phenomenon. I haven’t heard it spoken of yet. What used to be called a short story is now being called a “short short story.” Any shorter than 1500 words and it’s now “flash fiction.” Those rare things we call short stories seem to be pushing the old novella length, and novellas are a bit longer too. And this is to say nothing of the Harry Potter trend. That new book is how long?
And I guess I just find this a little strange, given the almost unassailable common wisdom that attention spans are shortening, and national literacy is declining. Maybe it’s the “super-size-me” American thing. We just don’t want it unless it hangs out of the parking space an extra few feet.
Anyway, I’ve noticed that even though I write fiction, sometimes I want to share a message. that won’t interfere with my characters and their situations. When that impulse strikes, I have a blog. And I think that’s a good thing.
But there’s a tendency in the blogosphere for people to spout opinions. It seems like the Internet can create arguments out of a simple difference in definition of terms. “What do you mean by that, really?”
I know most blogs aren’t the best use of time. Many are intentionally divisive rather than unifying, and have more in common with the hedonistic, pleasure-seeking wish-fulfillment as this super-sized American dream gospel. Everyone gets to have a blog and an opinion. But deep down we know enjoying life requires striving after that deeper pleasure, the kind that doesn’t just come from being recognized, the kind born of difficult research. Great pain creates space for great joy. It’s an emotional journey to enjoyment. And more amazing than causing division and seeking our fortunes is finding new and different people from all over the world, and the similarities we all hold.
A reason I like short stories better than most the blogs out there is that stories are still the best at diffusing our differences of perspective and showing how universal our experiences really are. There’s a thought of Eugene Peterson’s that applies here. Jesus often answered direct questions from the Pharisees with a short story—“flash fiction,” if you will. When they’d ask Him for a definition of a particular word, intending to pin him into a semantic corner, He’d answer with, “There once was a man with two sons….” He knew that stories, while maybe still divisive, speak to our similarities and ultimately, subversively, unite us. And the short ones are often just enough to set that ticking time bomb in you before you’re on to the next thing.
So, my fellow writers, consider the power you wield today as you’re striving to rightly divide the word of truth on the page. And remember the bigger picture of unifying readers.