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How Much Does Flash Fiction Need To Spell Out, Anyway? 27 August 2009

Posted by Camille Gooderham Campbell in Editor's Opinion.
Tags: , ,

Today’s story at EDF is “Nipped in the Bud” by Beth Cato. (Spoiler alert! If you haven’t already done so, go and read the story now, before you keep reading here.)

My comment to Beth when we accepted the piece was “Wow, that last line is absolutely chilling. Very well written.”

However… some of the reader comments today suggest that not everyone understood what actually happened in the story. One reader saw “several totally unrelated themes mixed together”, and a few wondered why it was tagged as horror. Another saw the plant-killing as a prelude to “young life being continued and nurtured”, which is pretty much the opposite of what happened as I read it, and yet another reader said “I’m glad she’s pregnant. But was there something horrific about it?”

Only one reader said: “I am a fan of stories that trust their reader to put one and one together and come up with two.”

Now, if you have a character with an apparent gift for blighting plants and all young and growing things, and you have a character who is or might be pregnant with a very precious and wanted baby, and the plant-killer inadvertently touches the potential mommy-to-be, what does that imply? Can you put one and one together and get “miscarriage”? Exactly how spelled-out does a plot need to be?

The trouble is, reader comments complaining that they didn’t get it — or that they had to work too hard to get it — are by no means isolated to one or two individuals or to one or two stories… it’s a theme we see pretty regularly. And so I’m starting to wonder… do readers in general really prefer stories where they don’t have to do the metaphorical math?

I’m not suggesting in any way that flash fiction should be obscure or tough to read — it’s all about the gripping hook and clean sparse prose and the presence of a story arc and tension — but are the readers telling us that it should be simple? I have trouble believing that, but I don’t know quite what to believe after hearing commenters complain over and over that they had to work too hard, that they didn’t get the point of a given piece, that they couldn’t see a subtle story arc or tie a pair of plot threads together.

I keep wondering if we’re dealing with the vocal few, who don’t actually represent the masses… or if the said masses seriously do prefer a no-work, no-brain story, and the problem rests with me.


1. Arthur - 28 August 2009

Touch — ay!!

2. Rhonda - 28 August 2009

I really hope you’re dealing with the vocal few, who don’t actually represent the masses. *crosses fingers*

3. Beth - 28 August 2009

When I wrote the “Nipped in the Bud,” I had no intention of being subtle. The only issue left hanging is whether Val’s killing touch is real, or a mere coincidence. Readers interpret as they will. I thought all the facts were there… but then, I’m the author, and I’m biased.

It does seem that some people enjoyed the story or the star rating would have been lower.

4. Amber - 28 August 2009

I found all of the facts there when I read it. At first I thought Cotton might be a cat but a few sentences cleared that up no room for doubt.

5. Taste Is A Factor « Copy. Edit. Proof. - 4 September 2009

[…] indeed. And yet, I like the story. I still do. Both critically and personally. Apparently I have a taste for connecting the dots where others want the Mona […]

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