FlashFlood in Flashback

Posted: April 22, 2015 in Flash Fiction, Opinion
Tags: , , , , , , ,

FlashFlood was bigger and certainly better than ever this time – many thanks for all your entries, and to Calum Kerr (Mr Flash Fiction) and my fellow editors. Social media was used very effectively by contributors and we really were flooded with flashes. The standard of submission has soared since our first outing and, in the case of some writers, all three submissions were of such a high quality, it almost impossible to choose one – a very nice problem for an editor to have. If you got more than one story accepted, hats off!

Now that the dust has settled, I thought it might be a good idea to reflect again on what makes a good piece of flash fiction. But first, because the list is shorter, it may be helpful to say what flash fiction is not.

It is not a stream of consciousness that begins and ends in an arbitrary time and place, unless you are particularly adept at guiding your readers through a series of experiences to their satisfaction. There must be an underlying purpose with thoughts juxtaposed in such a way that the reader feels the undercurrents of emotion, links the ideas, and understands the meaning, otherwise it is an aimless and self-indulgent ramble. Despite the poetic nature of the prose, there were several stories that left me wondering, what the heck was all that about?

The other thing flash is not is a truncated novel. Simply relating a series of happenings in an arc with a beginning, middle and end but without the depth of character and plot development a novel allows, does not constitute a satisfying piece of flash. Again, the underlying themes must convey meaning and intent: it has to be about something more than what is sitting on the surface. We turned away some very well-written pieces because they made no impression – they were just carefully arranged words.

So what is flash? If I had to sum it up in one sentence I’d say it is a piece of writing, however short, that makes the reader think beyond the words.

This means a good flash will imply a before and after (though not necessarily at the beginning and end) and will be understated, yet have the richness and depth conveyed in longer pieces. It often presents as a pivotal scene, at the end of which the reader should be in no doubt that something has irrevocably changed.

As ever, there were some common themes running through this year’s entries, the most popular being death and dying. This is bound to be the case because it is a universal fact and obsession but, this time round, I was very impressed by the diverse directions from which our contributors approached their subject. It was treated with mystery, yearning, anger, sadness and even comedy.

The other common theme, not entirely unrelated to the above, was the degradation of the environment. This is something that most of us are assimilating into our thoughts, so it isn’t surprising. In fact, I expect to see a lot more of it. However, most of these stories took a very literal approach – of landscapes and wildlife devastated by human greed. There seems to me to be a wealth of interesting and entertaining ways this theme could be tackled and I hope, next time round, to read some.

The mechanics of good story-telling are well documented but in flash fiction it is more than usually important to kick off with a crackingly good sentence – one that pulls the reader in and plunges him or her into the middle of a situation. In other words, it is essential to start the story in the right place. How the situation is resolved (or not) must be satisfying and integral to the story but not necessarily a foregone conclusion.

The title’s importance is often overlooked. Make it work for you. Don’t waste words but use it as a subliminal signpost for your readers to carry throughout at the back of their minds. Several titles felt tacked on as an afterthought, which is a trick missed.

I hope these thoughts are of interest and will help in your quest to write the perfect piece of flash fiction. Please do have a read through some of the Journal and take what you can in tips from the successful entries.

We will be doing it all again to coincide with National Flash Fiction Day on 27th June, so please add the link to your bookmarks and send your brilliant new flashes when we open for submissions. We’ll look forward to reading them!

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Comments
  1. SJI Holliday says:

    Great post. As fellow editor, I agree with your points. The beautiful writing but no actual story was something I came across quite a bit, and it was a shame to reject things with beautiful prose, but when you find yourself re-reading several times and still can’t work out what it was about, then clearly it hasn’t worked. It’s very exciting to be a part of the journal, and I’m already looking forward to the next one.

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