Workshops


by Angela Rydell

Angela Rydell

Want to shine a light into the inner workings of your flash fiction? Plenty of online courses help fiction writers strengthen skill with craft. But most teach fiction fundamentals, or divulge the secrets to writing The Great American Novel. Only a handful focus on that crazy little thing called flash fiction. Which are they? Below you’ll find a survey of five of the best online courses out there devoted exclusively to making your flash writing tighter and brighter.

WOW! “Flash Fiction Workshop”
Course Description: http://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/classroom/GilaGreen_FlashFictionWorkshop.php
Instructor: Gila Green (http://www.gilagreenwrites.com/)
Start Date/Length: October 27th 2014, 8 weeks
Fee: $175
Additional Links: Find out more about WOW here and more about their classes here.

“Wow” isn’t just an exclamation of admiration—though there are some spectacular testimonials for this workshop. It stands for “Women On Writing,” an organization that employs successful women writers to teach meaty workshops (and offers great contests). But you needn’t be of the feminine persuasion to take the course.

This eight-week class is of the tailored one-to-one variety. The instructor emails a lecture each week to a group of approximately 8-10 students. The email includes examples, discussion, feedback and an assignment. Writers respond to the weekly assignment, which builds on the one before. So it’s not the kind of class where you write a story or two per unit. Instructor Gila Green says it’s designed to help you develop “a small flash into a full flash week by week and prepare for publication simultaneously, so that at the end of eight weeks you have a full, critiqued flash and a publication plan.”

While there’s no official discussion board or critique forum set up, group discussions/critiques may be initiated via email by the instructor on a case-by-case basis, if “a particular piece can benefit from group critique and…the group is advanced enough that the critique will have a positive effect.”

The focus here is on quality one-on-one time and deep revision, and that means student satisfaction is high. Green adds, “…many participants tell me that they are thrilled that finally someone is telling them how to fix things, not just what needs to be fixed. This doesn’t mean I write any materials for them, but I do try to focus on the how, the range of possibilities to get you where you’d like to go. I also include a focus on publication mid-way through the class, so that participants have a realistic idea of what is out there and what the current editorial demands look like.”

Writers.com, “Flash Fiction: Writing the Short-Short Story”
Course Description: http://www.writers.com/henning.html#henning
Instructor: Barbara Henning (http://www.writers.com/henning.html#henning)
Start Date/Length: January 5th 2015, 10 weeks
Fee: $340
Additional Links: Check out other creative writing classes online with Writers.com at http://www.writers.com/welcome.html and http://www.writers.com/about.html#writers.

This ten-week class is currently underway (it started Sept 2nd). Fortunately, it’s offered multiple times a year. Future start dates are January 5th and April 5th, 2015.

Expect plenty of bells and whistles. The fee includes lecture/blackboard (with interactive links), plus optional pdf readings, and some meaty material on theories of short fiction. You’ll receive both instructor and peer critiques, participate in an ongoing discussion of the readings and assignments, and write a lot—up to 9 one-to-two page stories (with an option to submit revisions in lieu of new work).

But you needn’t get bogged down. Instructor Barbara Henning says, “The student can put as much time into the course as she might like, either simply working on the assignments or also following the links and pdfs provided.”

Look forward to a lot of interaction, a mix of experience levels, from beginning to published writers, and a class size of five to fifteen students. Barbara adds, “The course can function as a workshop on flash fiction, an introduction to fiction writing craft, as well as a more advanced course in ideas about writing fiction.” A nice bonus: Barbara teaches this very class in an MFA program.

Fish Publishing Online, “Flash Fiction Writing Course”
Course Description: http://www.fishpublishing.com/flash-fiction-course-info.php
Instructor: Mary-Jane Holmes (http://www.fishpublishing.com/flash-fiction-writing-course.php)
Start Date/Length: Enroll any time, complete in 3 months
Fee: Around $323 at current currency rates
Additional Links: Read an interview about the course on Cafe Aphra Blog at http://cafeaphrapilot.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/interview-with-mary-jane-holmes-of-fish.html

Whether you’re from across the pond, America’s heartland, or elsewhere in the world, distance learning makes Fish’s flash fiction offering (based in the UK) accessible to all English speakers. Take ten modules at your own pace over three months. Though there’s no discussion, Mary-Jane Holmes, course instructor, encourages “an open dialogue, even outside the reviewing of set pieces.” Plus, “many students use the Fish Publishing Facebook page as a way of connecting and for discussion.”

This course will keep you busy. Each module includes up to four assignments and preliminary exercises. You’ll submit all assignments for feedback, which may include one or two completed stories (up to 300 words in length). You’ll receive a detailed critique of each exercise, and have an opportunity to rework and resubmit. Holmes adds, “Our one-to-one approach means we really get to grips with each individual’s writing style and from here can help work on developing their strengths and ironing out the weaknesses; a class orientated workshop can’t always afford to be so specific.”

The pièce de résistance? Your final story will be entered into the Fish Flash Fiction Prize (the contest fee is included in your course fee). And that’s not all. Holmes says participants “also have a chance to be published in the annual anthology (and there is some prize money too!).”

The Eckleburg Workshops, “Small & Mighty! Short Short Fiction”
Course Description: http://eckleburgworkshops.com/product/short-short-fiction-small-mighty-april-2015/
Instructor: Meg Pokrass (http://megpokrass.com/)
Start Date/Length: April 2015, 4 weeks
Fee: $110.00 (now on sale at $90.00)
Additional Links: Look into other Eckleburg Workshop goodies at eckleburgworkshops.com

The low price, distinctive visual presentation, and small class size are big draws for this offering. It caps at six students, give or take, depending on instructor discretion. Founder and Director of The Eckleburg Workshops, Rae Bryant, says the low numbers mean “a level of one-on-one attention that students rarely find in campus and online workshops.”

How much writing do you do? You’ll stay busy. In four weeks, you write four new flash fiction stories. But there’s more than just writing. The course includes “online lectures, discussions, workshop forum and individual feedback from both instructor and peers, as well as an ongoing student profile, access to the alumni listserv and publishing opportunities board.” Yeah, that’s a lot of bang for your buck.

There’s plenty of material, but you can pick and choose what you’d like do, and spend anywhere from a few hours a week to full days on course material, exploring the options and interacting with your peers. Plus, they’ve sidestepped the traditional blackboard model and custom-designed their own platform. If it’s anything like the eye-candy on their website, you’re in for a treat. Another bonus: “The online visual structure of the course makes it easy to read and respond to weekly discussions via your smartphone.”

What else makes this course unique? Bryant adds, “The Eckleburg Workshops are a place where talented writers and extraordinary instructors share space and focus with other individual voices. We offer a venue where these voices can shed the boundaries too often placed upon literary writers in particular niches or programs. The student’s organic talent and exploration of that talent comes first.”

UW-Madison Continuing Studies, “Fiction in a Flash: Art of the Very Short Story”
Instructor: Angela Rydell (https://sites.google.com/site/angelarydell/poetry)
Course description: http://continuingstudies.wisc.edu/classes/online-fiction-flash-art-very-short-story
Fee: Level 1 $125; Level 2 $155 (details below)
Start Date/Length: Enroll any time, complete within a year
Additional Links: Find more UW-online offerings at http://continuingstudies.wisc.edu/writing

This course caters to writers who like to take their time in a flash. It’s the most “open schedule” of all the offerings here. Expect low pressure and high value.

At your leisure, log on to UW-Madison’s server to access each unit’s lecture/blackboard material (written & taught by yours truly). Each unit is chock-full of stories by contemporary flash writers, analysis of their work, craft tips, links that expand on tricks of the trade, and writing exercises. The spotlight is on one-to-one feedback from your instructor (yes, moi). There’s no discussion or critique forum, but instructor interaction is encouraged: send me questions unit to unit or chime in on my Instructor Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/AngelaRydellInstructorPage). You’ll also receive email updates that inspire you to put pen to paper. And if you want more structure, I can take on the role of taskmaster and help you follow-through with a submission plan that’ll keep you writing.

How much writing will you do? Level 1 writers write up to five stories, Level 2 writers write up to eight. You’ll expand from six-word stories to 1000 worders. That expansion includes revision techniques, and you can always submit a revision of an earlier story in lieu of a new one.

I specialize in tailoring feedback to your needs, and ask, up front, if you like your critiques mild, medium, or hot. Challenge yourself or take it easy, it’s up to you! Receive supportive comments that help you identify what works, grapple with challenges, and delve as deep as you like.

As a bonus, you get access to an extensive appendix featuring dozens of model stories online, direct links to flash markets looking for new work, tips on preparing your work for submission, plus a list of reliable websites and revitalizing prompts that’ll help keep you writing long after you’ve finished the course.

Okay, that’s the long and the short of it.

Know of other good courses? Please post a comment and share what you know.

Thanks to the directors of the programs, and the instructors, for providing such helpful info on the courses.

____________

Angela Rydell is a poet, novelist, short fiction writer, and writing instructor. Her stories and poems have appeared in journals both in print and online, including The Sun, Indiana Review, NANO Fiction, Flashquake, Crab Orchard Review, Alaska Quarterly Review and elsewhere. Angela’s flash fiction has won the Portland Review’s inaugural Flash Fiction Friday contest, was a finalist in the American Short(er) Fiction Prize and Passage North‘s Neutrino Short-Short Prize, and received honorable mention in the New Millennium Writings Awards Flash Fiction Contest. She’s currently a judge for NYC Midnight’s Flash Fiction challenge 2014. Angela lives in Madison, WI, where she teaches creative writing courses in UW-Madison’s Division of Continuing Studies, including the online workshop Fiction in a Flash.

 

by Jim Harrington

NSLF Organizing Committee

2014 NSLF Organizing Committee

I learned about the National Schools Literature Festival a few months ago and contacted them for further information. Below Sharon Quek, the media and communications contact for the group, provides responses. Pictures from the event can be viewed on their Facebook page. More information can be found on the NSLF website.

FFC: What is the National Schools Literature Festival? Where did the idea come from? What is its purpose? When did it begin?

Sharon Quek: The National Schools Literature Festival is a ground-up initiative developed by Literature teachers in Singapore who want to encourage the study of Literature as an essential subject in the national curriculum. It started in 2004 when a group of Singapore Literature teachers came together to organise competitions at the national level, in which students could participate to sharpen their skills in critical reading, debate and dramatisation. The festival allows teachers and students to network with their peers, jointly build their understanding and interpretations of the Literature texts they are studying, and deepen their understanding of and love for Literature.

FFC: There are six sessions listed in the programme. Do students participate in each one, or do they get to choose?

SQ: Students can participate in any of the six events (Debates on Unseen Texts, Set Text Debates, Poetry Slam, Book Trailer, Book Parade and Flash Fiction). To allow more schools to have the opportunity of participating in the festival, the organising committee has requested each school to send a maximum of two teams (one each for lower secondary and upper secondary) per event.

FFC: The list of participants includes 80 schools. How many children from each school participate? How are they chosen?

SQ: An average of about 20 students from each of the 76 schools participated in the festival this year. The selection of student participants is left to the schools. In the last seven years, the number of student participants has been in the range of 1,000 to 1,500.

FFC: One section is for flash fiction. Why flash?

SQ: Flash Fiction is a new event organised to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the National Schools Literature Festival this year. The event seeks to encourage students to write in a succinct and original manner that will engage the interest of readers.

FFC: Stories must be exactly 200 words. Why 200?

SQ: 200 words is an appropriate length for students to include sufficient details in a story while sustaining the attention of any reader. The organisers hope that the word limit will also challenge students to think carefully about their choice of words.

FFC: What else should we know about the festival?

SQ: Ten winning flash fiction stories were selected by a review committee. These were subsequently published in notebooks that were given to every participant at the festival.

Currently, the festival caters to secondary school students in Singapore. We hope to expand the festival to include primary school students in the future to promote a love of reading and Literature among the younger students too.

FFC: Thank you, Sharon, for responding to my questions, and thanks to all the teachers who organize and participate in this wonderful effort to bring literature to their students.

______________________

Jim Harrington began writing fiction in 2007 and has agonized over the form ever since. His stories have appeared in Every Day Fiction, Liquid Imagination, Ink Sweat and Tears, Near to the Knuckle, Flashes in the Dark, and others. He serves as the Managing Editor for Flash Fiction Chronicles. Jim’s Six Questions For . . . blog provides editors and publishers a place to “tell it like it is.” You can read more of his stories at http://jpharrington.blogspot.com.

 

by Gaius Coffey

A consistent theme in writing books and blogs is the advice to seek out honest feedback. It’s a pretty straightforward argument — if you’d thought there was a problem in your prose, you’d have fixed it, right? So, any remaining problems are problems you cannot see. You cannot fix problems you cannot see, so you recruit somebody who can. A trusted reader.

It’s difficult to imagine any credible objection to that position and the majority of writers pay lip-service to the importance of seeking out good critique.

But what do writers do with that feedback?

When experienced writers talk about critique on forums, they repeatedly assert that it is up to each individual to choose how to respond. After all, some critiques say more about the person making the comment than the work they are talking about. Some advice is not in line with what the writer intends. And, yes, some advice is just wrong. To incorporate every single piece of advice and respond to every criticism is to edge toward madness.

And I have no difficulty with that position either.

But there’s a conflict somewhere in here. The feedback that is most likely to be discarded is the feedback the writer finds hardest to accept. The hardest feedback to accept is likely to be an issue the writer can’t see. And that strikes at the whole purpose of feedback; to highlight issues that the writer can’t see.

It is common for writers to follow a statement about the importance of critique with a caveat about types of critique they ignore. This can take a number of forms;

  • “…doesn’t [read my genre / get my work / like my style]…”
  • “…not really my target audience…”
  • “…they can’t see I was using [technique] deliberately to [something else they missed].”
  • “…I switch off when they start quoting [rule]. A good writer knows when to break the rules…”

Insidious statements like these undermine critique even before it is given. They are attractive because there is often a grain of truth in them, but they betray a prejudice on the part of the writer about who is “qualified” to comment on their work. That prejudice makes it too easy to discard opinions without thought.

To benefit from feedback, writers must be open to hearing, and considering, honest opinions about their work. That means respecting readers and accepting that their reactions are valid whether or not they “got” what you were trying to do. But if I am advocating listening to everyone who comments on your work, how do you avoid the spiralling madness of a critique junkie struggling to satisfy conflicting and confusing comments from multiple sources?

To paraphrase Neil Gaiman (point 5, here): Listen to all your readers to find out where the problems are, but use your own judgement to determine if they are valid and how to resolve them if they are.

_________________________________________________________________

Gaius Coffey’s story “Alone, Not Lonely” was shortlisted for the 2010 Fish Publications One-page Story competition. His story “Terry and the Eye” was Every Day Fiction’s most read story in March, 2010. He lives in Dublin with his wife, two cats and a baby daughter; the latter being as much an inspiration to write as an impediment to writing resulting, on balance, in bafflement.

by Michelle Reale

Michelle Reale: Len, first of all you are one of my favorite flash fiction writers. Second, you are extremely prolific—lucky for your readers! How do you manage this?

Len Kuntz: Thank you so much. I really appreciate that. I’ve wanted to be a writer since age nine, so it’s very flattering and humbling to have someone like my stuff. I’m very lucky, because I retired from the corporate world about six years ago and now I write full time. I try to write every day. I try to get 2,000 to 4,000 words down, but that doesn’t happen very often.

Even though most people call me prolific, the truth is I’m kind of a slacker and should be writing much more than I do. Honestly. I mean, I have the ability to write all day, every day. I just fight what all writers fight—that subconscious which will have us doing almost anything—yard work, dishes—but write.

Michelle: How did you start writing flash fiction?

Len: I didn’t even know what flash was. I started writing seriously about two years ago. They were all 4,000 word short stories. I sent them to the traditional lit journals via postal mail—it was arduous, archaic and, I eventually realized, idiotic. Then I learned about the online literary community. I was fascinated.

It sort of blew my hair off. People like Kim Chinquee, Brandi Wells, xTx, Roxane Gay, Matt Bell and Meg Pokrass—they were the early ones who really inspired me, and I basically just studied the hell out of them, trying to learn the craft by reading everything they wrote and submitting to the places where they got published.

Michelle: You are a poet, as well.  Do you write in both forms concurrently or do you tend to concentrate on one over the other for a certain period  of  time?

Len: Actually, it just depends on what I’m reading at the time. Whenever I read poetry, I feel this huge surge to  compose poetry. Same with flash. Same with novels. When I write a novel, however, I have to consciously stop reading flash and poetry or it’ll pull me too far away from the bigger story.

Novelists are my heroes. Teachers, soldiers and novelists.

Michelle: Which form do you believe expresses what you want to say, best?

Len: Flash is my favorite. I like something sharp and tight, like getting a bullet to the heart, so that the person walks away shaking their head, feeling a sting for the rest of the day, if not longer.

Michelle: One of your predominant themes seems to be the body, which fascinates me. Stories such as “Thoroughly Modern Families,” “Skin,” “Motion Sickness,” and “Medicine and Meat” are incredibly inventive and vivid. How do stories like these come about?

Len: You picked some of my more bizarre pieces there! For longer stories, I usually have a theme or idea in mind. With poetry I find a line I like and just start writing. But I never really thought I had a fixation with “the body.” Maybe I do. Usually my central themes are about broken people, damaged families, abandoned or wounded children. All of the pieces you mentioned above cover those subjects. “Medicine and Meat” is a tough story (“You wouldn’t expect a little girl like me to have such a big penis inside her panties, but I do…”) about rape and vengeance. The body parts are sheer symbolism.

Michelle: Your micro piece “A Parent Your Own Age,” hit me in my solar plexus. I read with an eye towards poignancy. If there is suffering, I am sure to find it. I don’t want to pick apart the piece so much that the mystery and magic is laid entirely bare, but please talk about the writing of this piece.

Len: I wrote that at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop this summer. We were doing days of free writes. One day we were given a selection of titles, so I picked “A Parent Your Own Age.” Without saying too much, I know someone like the woman featured in the story, and so I tried to imagine what her life might have been like—all the raw tragedy—that eventually brought her to the polished, steely sort of way she ended up being as an adult. I think we all have had bad things happen to us, dark secrets and whatnot. I like to bring that to life. I don’t know why, exactly, but it’s the stuff I’m drawn to and that I find interesting. Happy stories don’t do a thing for me.

Michelle: “Happy Campers” made me squirm. You so nailed those types of conversations where people who love each other often have: passive aggressive with anger pulsating just beneath the surface. Does the “chick squirrel” really want the “red-faced curmudgeon” to choke to death in the woods?

Len: Maybe. Well, yes and no. Some spouses have that love/hate thing, don’t they?

Michelle: I have been fortunate on many occasions to receive incredibly kind kudos from you on my work and encouragement to go further. You are a wonderful presence on Facebook and you always have something nice to say to everyone—you are incredibly supportive. Tell me how the online writing community of flash fiction writers inspires you and how it has changed and/or influenced your writing.

Len: Well, Michelle, you’re a fantastic writer. Really, you are, so it’s easy to tell you that. As writers, we’re so lucky to have this incredible community to associate with. It makes the world small. And I love all things writerly. People like Sara Lippman, Meg Tuite, Robert Vaughn, Nicolette Wong, Cheryl Gardner—they’ve really gone out of their way for me and what’s impressive is—with the exception of Sara—I’ve never even met them. I always feel compelled to tell someone when I admire their work. It’s actually a thrill to be able to connect with other authors (remember, I love all things writerly.) Plus, I know how good it feels to have someone say, “Nice job.” It can get very lonely, this writing thing we do, to the point where you go, Why even bother? So, a kind, honest word from someone goes a long way.

Michelle: Who are your flash heroes and why?

Len: There are so many. Here are some I haven’t mentioned yet: Aubrey Hirsch nails it every time. Julie Innis—she can be incredibly poignant or remarkably funny, often at the same time. Riley Michael Parker writes with razor blades. Brian Olio paints gems like “she’s a name you once knew, the death of a star.” Kevin Sampsell says the things we’ve all lived. Barry Graham makes an overloaded ashtray seem sexy. Ben Loory—every one of his stories is a fable with loads of depth. And Sam Pink—I don’t even know if this guy is a real person, but he once wrote a 50 word story about a Jolly Rancher that was brilliant.

Michelle: Give your most sage advice to flash writers new to the form.

Len: Read lots and lots of flash. Write every day. Find a mentor or two. Learn to ask good questions. What do you do when you aren’t writing flash? I read a lot. I’m a runner. Plus I love movies and great TV like “Dexter” and “Six Feet Under”.

Michelle:  Time for Michelle’s “Flash Challenge!”  Here are your words should you choose to accept: Exhibition, bombast, fingernails, spirals, turbulence, plasma, barrage, conjecture and , last but not least, guts.

Len: Here you go…

Monsters

She could be anybody’s monster, but she’s mine to tend. One day my wife says I have to choose and so I do. “Really, Len?” she says. “Really? You’re choosing her?” When we were very young kids, my sister was still happy. She had a filmmaker’s imagination. Then Mom remarried and Sis’s stories got darker and darker. Each night she told me a story about a monster that lived under our bed, how this part-wolf part-serpent would fly the neighborhood at night, searching bedrooms for young children to eat. “You don’t have the guts to leave me,” my wife says with bombast. But I do. I leave. *** At my sister’s, the proof is everywhere–her shredded fingernails, pupils pulsing like copper spirals, the tang of tar hanging heavy yet strangely invisible in her apartment. “It’s not what you think.” She’s a thin sheet, bones, limp flesh and cloth. When we were kids our stepfather used to beat her for no reason, with a barrage of blows. Sometimes he made up reasons to be ruthless. “What?” she asks, smearing a pink plasma of mucus across her cheek. It’s not hard to conjecture how we’ve gotten here, to this moment and this place on the planet, but it doesn’t make this any easier. I make for the door but she blocks the way. “I thought you loved me,” she says. Her hair is a mop of tangles, her skin pale as curdled cream. “I do,” I say. “I do, but I can’t.” “You promised.” Her voice is jagged, laced with desperation. “It’s not too late to start fresh.” She cackles, filling the air with spiced turbulence. “Well, I’m not going to do it. No way. I can’t.” “Fine.” “Call the hotline.” “You’re my hotline.” “I’m not going to kill you. Not a chance.” “It’s not me, you’ll be killing. You know that.” “He died last year.” “No,” she says, jabbing her chest with a finger. “He never died. He’s here and I can’t stand it.” “Please.” “The monster’s still here.” *** That night we sleep under a full moon staring at us with its one, voyeur’s eye. Her head is curled under my arm. “Thank you,” she says. “I mean that.” The pillow doesn’t seem thick enough, my hands don’t seem strong enough, but I’m wrong. I’m wrong about this.

Michelle: Awesome, Len.    Thanks for offering insight into you process and for such a great flash piece!

Len: Thank you so much, Michelle. Your kindness means a great deal to me.

________________________________________________

Len Kuntz lives on a lake in rural Washington State.  His writing appears widely in print and online at such places as Elimae, The New Verse News, Red River Review and also at lenkuntz.blogspot.com.

Check out some of Len’s stories mentioned in this interview:  “Thoroughly Modern Families”, “Skin,” “Motion Sickness,”  “Medicine and Meat,” and “Happy Campers.”


 

by Sam Painter

This is part of an intermittent series about first publications and anticipating first publications.

I am still a virgin, a publishing virgin that is. The only places my literary work has appeared are on Mom’s fridge and in the waste can. Thirty-plus rejections so far, but I’m undaunted. In fact, I recently took stock and realized that my stories suffer from passive language, poor plotting, and no audience appeal. I joined Critters Workshop and Critique Circle in the hope that these groups will be able to help me improve.

I’m reading more too. Best Fiction on the Web, Barcelona Review, The New Yorker, and Smithsonian Magazine. This last is nonfiction, but their writers have great style. I’m reading plenty of other respected magazines too, and analyzing what good writers do to construct their prose. By comparison, my work is terribly unsophisticated and my style boring.

Writing is a lot like my day job in the office. I can idle the time away or I can apply myself to the task. I recently received a promotion and a raise because I worked for it. If success was easy, everyone would be a star. We tend to personalize the writing experience because it is a creative endeavor. That’s wrong, at least for me. Writing is a job. It’s valuable for me to maintain my objectivity. It helps me overcome my natural bitterness at being rejected.

Cover letters are a lot more important than I initially realized too. They won’t necessarily help you get published, but since I improved my approach to editors, I am getting more cogent feedback including tips about what I can do to write better. This has helped me. In fact, it was an editor who suggested I join Critters Workshop, but more to the point: I’m learning about the basics of what it takes to write well and sell a story.

Yesterday I deleted several stories from my folders. They were fairly worthless and it would be too difficult to bring them up to snuff. It felt as if I was abandoning my children. A tough decision to make, to admit I was wasting time when I wrote them, but I think it was a big step in the right direction.

I see more and more that writing is entertainment, just like singing or acting. You have to provide the reader with the whole package, not just a few fancy lines or high notes. Vividness and je ne sais quoi are great for icing the cake, but the real dessert is thematic content the reader can identify with. What do people want to read about? Themselves. Experiences they can relate to. This is a simplistic approach with plenty of exceptions, of course, but it’s the bones of the body. Without a structure around poignant content, the story collapses. No one wants to read it.

Like most writers, I enjoy creating characters and settings. It’s fun! And when you get that smattering of dialogue at a crucial moment in a story just right, there is a tremendous sense of fulfillment. When that dark room is illuminated by your words and the warmth from the crackling fire is palpable, when you create a visual image that is impossible to forget, that moment is frozen in time and you are suddenly something more than yourself. It’s quite visceral for me. But again, this is the fun stuff. Plotting and pace and all those boring details are the lynchpins of good writing.

Now, the real hat trick is to squeeze all that into only a thousand words. Flash. A good flash story has all the elements of a novel in microcosm. Plot, pacing, description, characterization, denouement, etc. You could easily use a thousand words to describe a flash story. Which reminds me, I recently received a rejection from a three-person editorial staff that I got a kick out of. The rejection was literally longer than the story.

Flash fiction, for the most part, is a punch in the face. You need a hook, a plot blob, some razzle dazzle, and by then, you’re finished. Each word must pop and the entire flash story has to sound like a string of firecrackers. That swarthy aquiline visage arranged atop the character’s cliff of shoulder becomes, in flash, a hawk-like face. The resounding explosion emanating from the barrel of that gleaming revolver is an echoing gunshot. And the stylish pleated auburn skirt that hugs a woman’s tantalizing figure is known as a jersey dress. Flash. It’s quick, like melting ice cream on a boiling summer afternoon.

It is harder for me to write flash fiction than a novelette. I’m not a fan of this minimalist era of ours. But readers are just too darned busy to read for more than five minutes. In this “Kindlian” era flash stories will ultimately generate more profits than novels. It is the market that dictates the product, after all.

I’d like to finish with a comment about Flash Fiction Chronicles. It is unique, and a valuable resource that I was thrilled to discover. Beyond the obvious attribute of the listings, there is a fount of valuable information, great links, and advice from professional authors that dilettantes like me are very lucky to find available.

______________________________________

 

Sam Painter was born at Great Lakes Naval Base. He lives in Cicero and works in Chicago in a sales office. An inveterate computer geek, Sam hopes someday to enlarge his circle of friends to three. He is an aspiring writer with a very large dictionary that seems to be mising one word. That word is failure.

Next Page »