I am guilty of taking myself too seriously. Not to a crazy degree but just to the point of over thinking things a little too often. Over the last couple of years I have been writing short stories almost daily. I have figured out my style, the way I like to write and the things I like to write about and it is working. As a result however a few months ago I found that almost all of the stories I have written recently are of a similar length and invariably centred on a group of fictional friends.
This was not a problem, in fact it was an aim. I had fallen in love with this group of characters and I wanted to write a collection for them to live in. The problem was that every story I wrote was about them and between two and five thousand words. If I had an idea for a story that none of my characters fit in with, or was really short, I would pop it in my notebook and forget about it. I had to be focussed if I was going to get this collection done. Writing took discipline. I’d been told that a thousand times.
But, if there is one thing I have learnt over the years of writing, and receiving advice about writing, is that you should never close your mind to new ideas. I had been ignoring this advice and it lead to what I guess was writers block.
After a few weeks of frustration editing, trying desperately to believe that I was still writing, I decided to go back to my roots.
One of the first stories I had published was a flash-fiction called Movies and Stories From Friends. It was a six sentences long musing about a girl loosing her virginity at a party. I remember writing it in about two minutes; I then spent two months editing it but the feeling that remains is those two minutes. That flash of going from inspiration to finished story in less time that it takes to brew a cup of tea. I wanted that back.
So I put all my current stories to one side and cleared my head of those character names and their voices. I thought I’d try to write a couple of flash-fiction stories. I emptied my brain and waited for it to fill up with new stuff.
It worked. Without constantly thinking about my story collection or the characters who lived in it and focussing solely on trying to write something flash length, I managed to write three flash fictions a day for a month and a half.
I wrote stories about self-service check outs with attitudes, voodoo cigarettes, pre-apocalyptic imaginary zombies, vengeful guitar strings and a tonic that can turn humans into chameleons. Nothing I had ever written before prepared me for these stories, or even hinted that I might some day write stories like this. It was the most incredible creative burst I have had in a long time.
This burst was prolonged by one of my current undertakings: the National Flash-Fiction Day project Flashpoints. I’m one of a small team consisting of myself, Emily Cleaver and Rachael Dunlop, under the captain and champion of all flash-fiction endeavours Calum Kerr. Together we’ve been working on this project that we have dubbed “a site-specific mass writing event.”
Flashpoints is for everyone, wherever you are in the world. This is not a lit mag or blog in the traditional sense; it is a completely open writing project to celebrate the joys of flash-fiction. Anyone can get involved.
At Flashpoints we encourage people to get out in the world, writing flash-fiction rooted in their surroundings. We ask them to write stories on a single page, photograph where they are and send it all in to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Some contributors have even left their stories in the wild for strangers to find, all in the name of flash-fiction celebration. We ask them to push themselves, write a story in one burst, squelching the desire to edit. We feature every story we receive and there is no limit to how many times a writer can contribute, the more the better.
Seeing what people do with the form has been wonderful for my writing, boosting my own creativity. People have written on scraps of paper and coffee shop napkins, in play parks and underground trains. The variety of submissions and experimentation has truly been wonderful to see. Flash-fiction is a delicate art. It takes a lot of discipline and effort but it does allow complete freedom for your imagination. There is nothing you can’t do in a flash fiction. That is why I love it.
Writing Flash-Fiction has warded off my writers block and my frustration. Above all though, it has made writing fun again. I’m never quite sure what I’m going to write next.
You can see all the stories to date for some inspiration and more information about the project on our blog over at http://nffdflashpoints.blogspot.co.uk
[And you can read all about Alex, and some of his stories, over on his own blog at http://alexthornber.wordpress.com/]
Everything is a collective effort at Flashquake. We’ve got a great team working together to deliver the best content because our readers deserve just that. With that being said, we want to offer a collective response to what it is like to publish flash.
From Cindy Bell, Publisher and Editor-In-Chief:
We have a long tradition of publishing flash fiction, flash nonfiction, and short poetry including prose poetry. We've got a solid decade behind us, but aren't taking anything for granted. We strive to improve, to grow, and to offer our readers a quality publication. We're adding 10-minute plays, translations, multi-media, and reviews to the mix this year!
From Kellie Doherty, Editor and Segment Leader of Critique-A-Flash:
My experience with Flashquake has broadened my mind to what flash fiction is and how many writers love the style. As the segment leader of Critique-A-Flash, I am exposed to a wide variety of flashes each week. The quality ranges, of course, but, as long as they meet our requirements, I critique them, stating what could be changed or what I particularly liked. Writers, I believe, like the test of penning a flash. It challenges the very core of what a good story is truly about and, with my job, I feel like I'm helping those writers become better at what they love to do and allowing them to get the publication they rightly deserve. It's hard to write good flashes and the ones who try should be rewarded.
From Nichelle Seely, Editor:
Working with flash fiction has been an eye-opening experience. It's been an education to be on the editing side instead of the submission side. When faced with choosing four out of a hundred submissions, I can now appreciate how meaningful each nuance of care and style becomes. Amazing pieces pop out of the field with their originality of subject or beauty of language. At first I felt, 'who am I to judge,' and yet, that was my responsibility--it's humbling! And because Flashquake responds to every submitter with a brief critique, it reminds me that there's a human being with hopes and dreams on the other side of the story, someone who might be hurt or encouraged by whatever I have to say. I try hard to include something that works as well as the reason a story was rejected, because almost everything I've read has some merit. It usually takes me longer to compose my two sentence critique than the time it takes me to read the story.
Being an editor for Flashquake has improved my own writing. Flash fiction by nature must be laser-beam tight, and extraneous verbiage sticks out like a corn stalk in a pumpkin patch. My spidey-sense for needless words gets stronger every issue, and I now have a much better idea of what an actual paid editor must go through, and what they're looking for (or at least what puts them off!)
From David Bowles, Editor:
For me, flash fiction at its best is about the relationship between the author and the reader, the power of resonant writing to interact with a reader's own brain and create a story that is just hinted at on the page. This sort of intimacy is what many writers crave: a one-to-one collaboration with the audience from which powerful shared narratives arise. Finding pieces that accomplish this amazing feat is a joy for me, and sharing them with other word junkies is almost a responsibility.
From Elia Seely, Guest Editor:
I write flash fiction for the challenge of distilling a story down to its purest elements. I read this genre for the same reasons; that pure shot of "ahh" that comes from a perfectly measured portion of character, tone, setting, dialogue. Editing for an online magazine offers and immediacy of experience for both myself and the submitters; it feels good to be able to respond with some feedback right away. I love seeing people's imaginations at work, at it inspires me to get my own work out there.
Our Spring issue is now up in a new format we are proud of and excited to deliver to our readers. We also just opened up our submission period and will be accepting literary works of flash as well as art through May 20th.
At Flashquake, we have a theory: Words are meant to make an impact, to leave a trace, to enlighten and to inspire. We hope you’ll read along with us.
I’ve been entering flash fiction contests for a while now, and have just launched Flashbang, my first attempt at running a contest for others to enter. It’s made me think afresh about the value of contests, and how to describe flash fiction to those coming at the concept for the first time. I’m someone who took to flash like a fish to batter, and landed an impressive tome of rejections along the way, but I hope I’ve got useful things to say to those just setting out on the contest road.
I say I’ve been rejected many times and it’s true. I used to keep a spreadsheet of my entries and their fates, but it got too depressing looking at all the boxes coloured like Elastoplast (the colour I used for rejections). Still, my first big win – in anything – came with flash fiction. I wrote a 300 word story about Lizzie Borden which won the Fish Criminally Short Histories Prize. Hard to imagine a better thrill than that, and for a long time afterwards I was hooked on entering flash contests. It’s fun to be on the other side of the fence now, watching the entries to Flashbang roll in and thinking of the buzz the writers will get when we announce the shortlist, and the winners.
But what if you’re not one of the winners? Well, I have more experience in that neck of the woods than in the winners’ enclosure, and I still think entering contests is a terrific way to get ahead as a writer. Why? Firstly and most importantly, it makes you write. We should be writing all the time, of course, but sometimes a competition is the kick in the pants that reminds us to get on with it.
Secondly, it makes you write something for someone else, which means we start thinking about the readers, or a specific reader – the judge. We check out what the judge likes, and we write towards that, rather than simply pleasing ourselves. Thirdly, contests get us writing to a deadline and a set word count. Again, important skills if we take our writing careers seriously.
Fourthly – okay, that sounds weird. My fourth point: it means we have to let go. Put our words out there, to be judged. This is a really tough part of writing, and I don’t think any author ever gets over how hard it is. As long as we’re in control, we can tell ourselves our stories are great. Fantastic even. But we won’t know for sure, until we send them out into the world of Other Readers. It’s scary, but it’s a vital part of writing. Letting go frees us up to start something new.
Five? You might win! Or make the shortlist. Or the long list. Each of these is a milestone which should be celebrated. Even – and here’s a bruiser – being rejected. Knock-backs come with the territory and the sooner we can start accepting them, the better. Suck in the honey, spit out the bees, as someone said to me recently. Or, as Peter O’Toole says in Lawrence of Arabia: ‘Of course it hurts. The trick is not minding that it hurts.’ In many ways, failure is your friend. I blogged a bit on that theme, here.
I’d encourage everyone to enter Flashbang. It’s free (which is increasingly rare these days) and the judges have provided brilliant hints as to what they’re after in the winning entries, which include some great definitions of flash fiction. Don’t be put off if you’re not a crime writer; perhaps the very best thing about flash is how many hats you can try on. I’ve written horror flashes, comic flashes, and literary flashes. You don’t need to be an expert in the genre to write 150 words – and you may discover a talent you didn’t know you had. So give it your best shot (pun intended) and I look forward to reading your entries.
Visit http://flashbangcontest.wordpress.com/ for full details, and follow @FlashbangGang on Twitter for latest news.
I was having a conversation with a friend of mine last weekend. He’s a DJ, a drum and bass one to be precise and we were discussing what we look for in stories, and in music. I should clarify, for the record, that I don’t much like drum and bass, or most dance music. He asked me what I first listened to when I listen to music, when that song first comes on, what is it that first grips you, that makes you want to listen more. I thought about it for a moment, and I told him it was the words. The lyrics of a song. That’s what I listen out for. And so I asked him, when you do the same, what is it you first listen out for? He said he didn’t much go for the lyrics, to him the words are just another instrument and he wants to hear all those instruments used intelligently. He wants creativity in everything to do with music.
I bring this up because I have been thinking a lot over the past week about myself as a writer. When I pick up a book and dismiss it after reading the first chapter because it’s badly written, because the plot doesn’t work – am I doing the same thing? Am I looking for works that use everything creatively, intelligently? Has writing, in fact, ruined my love of books to an extent? I can enjoy music because to me, the songs I like have great lyrics. I don’t care about the guitar or piano or whatever. But with stories, for me at least, they’ve got to get it all right.
I picked up Jon McGregor’s wonderful short story collection, ‘This isn’t the sort of thing that happens to someone like you’ the other week and the opening story, ‘That Colour’ happens to fall under the word count of a flash fiction. To me, that story is a work of genius. Go on, go out and buy it, give that tale a read and tell me it isn’t the best piece of work by a writer so far this year. It’s incredible and more so, it’s less than a thousand words long.
I suppose that’s what I like about Flash Fiction. Maybe like isn’t the right word, respect is probably better. When they’re done well, they manage to do everything well, plot, character, imagery; they can make you laugh, cry and all within a tiny word count.
We’ll be celebrating National Flash Fiction day in
Flash fiction it's all the rage now. It's short, it's snappy, it's intense, it's bitesized. It's a short piece of fiction that ranges from the single word to a roundabout 1000 words at a stretch. It's as direct as poetry but without the same abstraction. It makes words work extra hard through attention to juxtaposition, erudition, etymology, sound and tempo. Flash fiction requires skill and wit, it requires a writer with nerves of steel, and a sharp steely scalpel that cuts out everything that distracts or is not necessary. It's a shot, instead of a pint. It's a story without the subplots, it's character as plot. It's story boiled down to it's essence: Character, motivation, action, epiphany (or you could be really clever and try a characterless epiphany or make the reader the character – anything to save words).
Have I convinced you yet? Is flash fiction really something different? Something that should be recognised it's own right?
Here in Ireland the recognition of flash fiction is definitely on the rise. After an Irish Times article (in which some of my views were quoted) the Irish Times proceeded to publish a flash fiction piece every day in it's newspaper. In an era when fiction is being edged out of many publications this is a terrific boon. In addition the lauded Irish national radio's arts programme RTE's Arena is now holding a flash fiction competition and both the Fish and Bridport Prizes have added flash fiction to their competition categories.
My own experience of finding flash fiction was through the Twitter community and hashtag #fridayflash. Here I found a place where I could create and read small pieces of fiction that, at it's most effective told a complete story and set of cerebral sparks. Many of these stories are being collated in Flashes of Sadness and Light where many of the characters appear again and again in each others stories.
We live in an age when everything and everyone is a story. We invent ourselves through Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, we look the extremes of the human condition through reality TV. We have round the clock news delivering pathos, action, outrage, rhetoric, conflict all in a moment.
Flash fiction is quick, it hits hard like the headlines. Flash has to find the hook fast, it needs to speak to us to reflect or expand our experience or it loses the reader. The beauty of flash and the crux of why it is important is that while it is short, quick, intense, accessible, bite-sized for the Smartphone it is made of words and can give us the best of what fiction can give.
And what can fiction give us? - Reflection, resonance, depth, pause, perspective. Through the eyes of authors, through their choices we can experience news ways of looking at the world, new understanding or just be plain old entertained.
When you look back at a book you enjoyed, or a film or piece of music, there is often a key scene or in music a lyric or a theme that sticks in your head and sums everything up and that is the power of flash fiction, it can be that killer moment, that set of notes that twists the knife in your gut, it is the shady bit in the middle of a Venn diagram that says everything that needs to be said: confluence, convergence, coincidence, consequence.
Do you remember a look years on? Where you were standing when you heard the news? That's flash.
As a writer, writing flash has given me: the opportunity to experiment, the discipline of chiselling a piece down to its fundamental elements, the joy (as a psychology graduate) of making character itself tell the story. It also has provided the parameter for me to ask myself over and over again, what really matters in the story? What creates an effect and what makes a difference?
Reading, most recently David Gaffney's very short pieces (or micro fiction) as he likes to call them in his collection Sawn Off Tales what has struck me is that these flash fictions have the impact of stand up comedy gags. We have the anticipation, the initial idea planted in our heads as to where the story or the gag might be going, then the exposition, the story, the thing that happened and finally, the resolution – or maybe not – both in comedy and in flash fiction the power is sometimes in the not saying, in the juxtaposition of ideas or occurrences that sets off a trigger in the mind of the reader. So flash fiction will be, (and perhaps even more so than other fictions) a collaboration between reader and writer, a conspiracy or collusion of understanding, shared conventions understood and then exploded.
While some commentators are still not sure that flash fiction is more than a writing exercise, I am firmly convinced that it taps into our human desire for anecdote and wit, it requires quick thinking, many connections firing at once. In this modern age of multitasking and parallel processing of all kinds of media, flash fiction, in my opinion, is something that is smart, quick and effective but also something that will endure as a way of making sense of the world and a fantastic way to enjoy and experience that sense making.
[A flash-graphic novel? Whoever heard of such a thing?! David Kirkwood, that's who...]
I’m absolutely delighted to be celebrating National Flash Fiction Day by hosting a Flash Slam (http://eightcuts.com/events/flash-slam/) in
Well, I first came across the idea through Amy Riley and Tim Lay who run
Yes, but what does that actually mean? Right, well the slam bit is like a poetry slam. Anyone can sign up (within reason – we have 12 spaces available in advance and on the night) to read flash fiction for no more than 4 minutes. They will then be scored, in an informal, friendly way by 5 pre-selected members of the audience. The highest and lowest scores will be removed and the reader with the highest score will “win.” And everyone will have an entertaining, educational, raucous and really rather fabulous time and come out fired with passion for flashing.
[If you would like to submit a guest blog entry for the site, please send us an email at nationalflashfictionday AT gmail DOT com with your proposal.]