by 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
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
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.