Archive for July, 2012

Tiny, tiny, HUGE!

I have been asked to write an article about flash-fiction. I’m not sure how often this happens to you, but for me it’s become quite a common experience. You see, I seem to have become the go-to-guy for all things flash and am called upon with startling frequency to write this kind of piece.

Why? You may ask. Well, at the tail end of last year I came up with the idea to hold a National Flash-Fiction Day (NFFD). I spent months organising, chivvying, and writing, and it took place on May 16 2012 with lots of wonderful activities going on all over the UK (and some others around the world too). One upshot of all this was that I ended up writing articles and giving interviews, over and over, about flash-fiction, what it is, why it’s good, what I write about etc.

So, you would think, that being asked to do it once more would either be boring or easy. Surely after spending nearly a year answering questions about the form I can more or less do it in my sleep? Well, yes and no. You see, it’s not that simple. If you’ve ever tried to define poetry, or short stories, you’ll find the same problem. There are as many different definitions of flash-fiction as there are writers of the form. All I can do is give you my opinion and hope that at least some of it makes sense to you.

And what are my qualifications for being the ‘flash guy’? Well, apart from coming up with the idea for NFFD and organising it, I also spent twelve months from May 2011 – April 2012 writing a flash-fiction every day, this following on from a similar project writing one a day in January 2011. So, I do know at least a little of which I speak. From my experiences writing, reading and publishing flash-fictions, here is what I have worked out, displayed as a conversation with myself:

‘Flash’? So, they’re short, right?

Flash-fictions are also sometimes called short-short stories. As such, they are shorter than the usual short story, and the only real way anyone has found to define them is by length.

So, what length is a flash-fiction then? 

Most people are happy to agree to under 1000 words, but limits of 500, 350, 250, 150, 100, 69 and 50 also apply. By the time you get down to double digits, names like ‘drabble’ and ‘micro-fiction’ start to be bandied about. Are these subdivisions of flash-fiction? Who knows?

Are these the ones with a twist in the end?

Sometimes, though in my personal opinion a flash-fiction which purely serves a jokey twist is not really pulling its weight. A flash-fiction can have a surprising ending, but it should be entirely consistent with the story, the characters, and emerge naturally from the plot, so that it makes complete sense, almost feels predictable, but isn’t.

Do they have to be on any particular topic?

Any and all. Just as you wouldn’t limit the topics, themes and genres of a novel or a short story, so there is no limit to what you can do in a flash-fiction. And before you say you can’t do a full family epic… yes you can. It just has to be short! The point with flash-fiction is that you need to make the words do a lot of work – bringing in associations to allow the reader to flesh out the story with all the missing details. In that way you can tell a much larger story than the words would suggest.

Ah, so it’s poetry then? Or maybe prose poetry?

Well, sometimes, yes. The line between flash-fiction and prose poetry is a much argued and oft-travelled thing. In the end the difference between the two comes down to things like the reader’s interpretation or even the author’s intention. That said, there is usually more of a sense of action and journey in a flash-fiction – a plot that unfolds – where a prose poem may be more focussed on the theme, emotion or idea behind the piece than the on the narrative.

So can it just be a bit of a larger story, then? Like a scene or something?

Well… yes… almost all flash-fictions suggest a much larger story going on, from which this is just a small section. But it also needs to be a complete and contained piece in and of itself, with a beginning, middle and end, no matter how inconclusive.

So, let’s get this straight, it’s a short-short story, of indeterminate length, but almost certainly under 1000 words, on any topic, in any genre, the ending should be utterly predictable but also completely surprising, its words work like they do in poetry but the thing itself is not a poem, and it needs to be complete, with a proper ending, even if it doesn’t conclude?

Yep. That’s it. Except for when it isn’t.

Nurse!…

Ah well, I tried. Despite writing them for a year, and running NFFD I’m not sure that I’m any clearer on how to fundamentally define the form that is known as flash-fiction. I just know that I can spot a really good one when I see it. And the best ones are up there with the greatest stories in the world. They are short enough to be completely memorable, and because they suggest much more than they tell they linger in the brain a lot longer than some longer stories or novels. When done well, they are perfectly crafted miniature behemoths; icebergs beaching in your brains, the ten percent you have read pulling the other ninety percent out into daylight.

If you haven’t experienced flash-fiction yet, what are you waiting for? Go get you some. They’re great!

 ***

 Calum Kerr is a writer of flash-fictions, short stories, poetry and novels. His collection of linked flashes, Braking Distance, is available from Salt Publishing  You can find out more about him on his website  and about National Flash-Fiction Day. His year-long flash-project is still available to read here.

 

 

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Some of this may surprise you, but please bear with me!

1. DON’T get yourself into a position fiscally where you have time to spend writing every day.

I retired from the military, got myself a part-time
job teaching English. Hmmm…. what to write about?
Write what you know! Of course, people are
desperate to read another of ‘Those Funny Andalucians/Provencales/Vietnamese’ sub-standard memoirs about unhelpful locals and tongue-tied retirees from Blackpool and Bognor. Okay, don’t forget you might have time to write, but will you be able to write anything people want to read?

My advice: don’t give up the day job.

2. DON’T live somewhere exotic/inspiring.

We’ve all read Chris Stewart’s Driving Over Lemons. How hard can it be? No-one tells you that hiding away in darkest Andalucia means you’re not so available when it comes to sending manuscripts or maintaining a broad-(in the least broad sense of the word) band connection to send your submissions to the agents and publishers who actually accept an e-submission. Ah… manuscripts. We British are always inclined to complain about the Royal Mail. I’ll never do it again. It’s not the deliveries that are so random, rather the collections… from main Branch Offices.

My advice: stay where your market is – unless you’re moving to Berlin or Barcelona.

3. DO self-publish (but…)

Yes. Why not? Type up your word document, convert it to PDF and upload it to Bubok/Lulu/the on-line POD publisher of your choice. You don’t need it proof-read, do you?  Well, no. If you’re one of those rare creatures with superb spelling, superlative syntax and great grammar. Even if you have, your precious book will emerge as a horrible hodgepodge of misplaced indents, crazed paragraphing and inexplicably blank pages – if you don’t get someone to look at formatting your document so that it can be typeset properly.

My  advice: pay someone to do both, even if you’re self publishing.

4. DON’T market to the huge number of expatriates living wherever you do. (But they all read, right?)

Well, up to a point. A look around the charity shops and second-hand markets of Southern Spain shows that in recent times there are fewer and fewer stalls dedicated to books. The worst phenomena that occur in UK publishing: Ghosted Celebrity Autobiography, 50 Kinds of Dire, Pastel-covered Chick Lit, all appear in microcosm on the few stalls that have books for sale alongside that broken toaster and a pre-flat-screen era TV. Some of these books look brand new. They may not even have been to the beach. DO a local pub-quiz and count the full marks awarded in the Literature round, if there is one. On the Costas themselves, count the red-tops on display next the stuffed donkeys and cheap flip flops. Your magical realist fable is going to be difficult to crowd fund here.

My advice: Start a book club and a Creative Writing group. The same people may be in both, but nothing ventured.

5. DO get properly connected.

Yes, I know you’ve got a computer. If you are not a social networking whiz, find someone who is. Join something like Ether Books or Jottify and get tweeting/Facebooking: become an e-mail pest and start annoying people into liking/reviewing/even buying your short-stories. These sites are about networking, the more people you can interest in what you’ve written the better.

My advice: Spend treble the time (at least) on marketing as on writing. It’s no good writing a ground-breaking novel if no-one reads it. You can be Jack Kerouac (15 years to get On the Road  published) or E L James. You decide.

Confession.

I haven’t done anything right. I am in the process of taking my own advice. We’ll see if it helps.

***

Ewan Lawrie lives in inland Southern Spain. He teaches English to a selection of bemused Hispano-phones and writes in his spare time. He has pieces published in various anthologies which actually have ISBNs! He has a novel which has been on the cusp of being ‘taken on’ for so long now he has written three quarters of a sequel. He is a member of too many writing sites and has won an occasional prize or two, when he can find something that has not already appeared on line to submit.

You can try Ewan’s attempt at self-publishing complete with eye-watering typesetting.

His unit-selling collection of short-stories ‘Please Allow Me’ can be found on Jottify.

He has several short-stories on Ether Books, if you are rich enough to have an I-Pad or I-Phone, some are free. Hunt in the drop-down menu of writers for Ewan Lawrie.

Ewan’s occasional blog.

(the blog owner reserves the right to disagree with some of the above)

On Thursday night I received an award at the first Ether Books Awards! Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get to the London ceremony, but it sounds as though it was a great evening with headaches the next day to prove it. I am delighted that The Beast Next Door has proved so popular with the e-reading public and hope it encourages readers to download some of my other stories via the free Ether App. Reality TV has also been in the top five paid downloads over the last few weeks, so please pop along and have a read.

Other news. I finally received a copy of Yorkshire Ridings Magazine in which my thousand-word murder/mystery story has been published. Unusually for me, I didn’t read the story wishing I could change at least one word in every sentence, so I have to report that I am pleased with it, especially not having written in that genre before. You can read the story here. Disregard the stray inverted comma at the beginning – it isn’t in my original document.

My other story that features The Strid is still getting around 70 visits a week because of the article a few months ago on Cracked.com about places most likely to murder you. It’s a fascinating article and The Strid came in third, so I feel justified in being haunted by it all my life.

The film of The Beast Next Door has now been cast and will go into production in the autumn, so that’s exciting too.  All this and Andy Murray in the Wimbledon Final as well! My cup overfloweth.

But now I must find a space in my trophy cabinet for my lovely Ether Award and instruct the downstairs maid to lick it clean every morning.

Good luck for tomorrow, Andy! I’ll be watching from behind the sofa.