The power of flash fiction

A compilation of flash fiction from several highly regarded authors was recently published in The New Yorker so it must be on trend!

Two names I recognised were Haruki Murakami and Joyce Carol Oates.

I’d always thought of flash fiction as very really extremely short stories but the pieces in The New Yorker appear longer than 500 words.

This led me to search for a definition of the term. It turns out that flash fiction can vary wildly in length, from a few words up to 1500 words.

In comparison, a short story is ‘several’ pages long and a lot more words. The next step is the novelette* followed by the novella. (*I’d never heard of it either. It’s a 7500-17,000 word story whereas a novella is 10,000-40,000 words)

A good way to learn the art of flash fiction is to read it and write it.

Doh!

Here’s how: The Australian Writers’ Centre runs Furious Fiction, a monthly flash fiction competition. The word count is up to 500 words and entrants must also include specific criteria that changes each month. This might be words, the placement of nominated words (at the start or end of the story), an event or a reference to an image.

The competition is launched at COB on the first Friday of the month and closes at midnight on the Sunday. I’ve entered about five times since COVID-19 and haven’t even made the short- or highly-commended lists! (the judges have yet to appreciate my talent 😉

The competition, which has a $500 prize for the winner, attracts more than 1000 entries from around the world. I love reading the winners’ stories. They are soooo impressive.

I don’t get down about not making the cut (not for long!). I see the competition as a writing lesson and an opportunity to flex my creative muscle. It’s practise.

There are hundreds of flash fiction writing courses available online. But there’s a lot to be said for reading the works of accomplished authors.

If you’re looking for a regular masterclass on how to write flash fiction, grab a copy of Good Weekend magazine in the Saturday edition of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age in Melbourne. Flick to the back of the mag for Kitchen Sink Drama by Paul Connolly.

Every week, Connolly delivers anywhere from 100-150 words crafted into a small story that captures the essence of our small lives. The Melbourne based freelance journalist and author often writes about absurd and inconsequential events, creating quirky vignettes of what we might consider to be insignificant moments in time.

Connolly’s tight sharp prose filled with a gentle humour and empathy evokes an emotional response in the reader. He touches a nerve that defines humanity and weaves it into a mini masterpiece.

It’s exciting news that Connolly’s stories, accompanied by the illustrations of Jim Pavlidis, will be available in one big book just before Christmas. I, for one, will pre-order several copies. One for me, and a couple for friends.

But in the meantime, you can enjoy Connolly’s wonderful flash fiction online.

RWA Little Gems Jade

What I like about a novel or short story might not appeal to you.

Say I read a book and love it so I recommend it to you.

It changed my life, I tell you. You are convinced it will change your life too.

But you are sorely disappointed. You think, What was she thinking? This book is rubbish! 

My point is, like with everything – food, drink, movies, comedy, music, exercise, dogs and cats, etc – what I like might not be your cup of tea.

I have had the experience of people either loving my writing or finding fault with it – they don’t like my heroine (she’s too selfish), my hero is too soft (no alpha males in my stories!), my style irks them, they don’t get my humour.

In 2017, I entered the Romance Writers of Australia short story contest, Little Gems.

Every year the RWA names a gem that must be included in the story.

Last year’s gem was Onyx.

I loved my story and hoped it would get into the top 14 stories that make up the annual Little Gems anthology.

But it flunked. I can’t remember the scores I received from the three judges who read it – I received one perfect score of 60 and maybe another of 58. But the third judge’s score dragged my story out of contention for the top 14.

She thought it wasn’t romantic enough and that it focussed more on the relationship between the mother (heroine) and daughter characters rather than that of the mother and the hero love interest.

I was shattered. I knew my story was good. Quite a few of my writer friends read it and helped me edit it. I had it polished to perfection. But obviously not enough.

That’s how it is. If you enter these contests, you have to take the good feedback with the bad and be aware it is a totally subjective assessment of your story by a judge chosen from a pool of generous volunteers.

This year I tweaked the story to fit the gem Jade. Other than that, I made no changes.

There were 67 entries. Only 14 get make it, all reliant on the scores allocated by their three judges.

This year I had better luck with my judges. I received a “perfect, there is nothing I would change in this story”, then a 59 and a 58.

It wasn’t enough to get me into a top 3 but my story made 5th place and the anthology.

I was pretty happy with the outcome.

I wasn’t so lucky with another story I entered, albeit at the last minute. Written in a rush, it was quickly subbed by a good friend on the last day/night for entries to be submitted.

It received a 58, 57 and a 44. As usual, a huge thumbs down from one judge.

I have to cop that. Obviously, the judge who gave me the low score doesn’t enjoy my style of writing.

There’s always next year!

 

 

 

Pandemonium in my brain: why I need a beta reader and better time management

SOME would say I live a safe life.

I have a stressful day job, a stressed-out family life and a very old dog (she will die soon so expect grief-stricken post).

What’s more, I live in the suburbs and head to the coast for the holidays.

But when it comes to writing for contests, I have inadvertently become a risk taker by leaving ABSOLUTELY everything to the last minute.

I don’t know what it is inside my weird head that puts me into go-slow mode the second I commit to entering a competition (expect a post on procrastination).

But the end result is pandemonium in my brain, which led me (too late) to the conclusion that I should have consulted a beta reader right from the start.

I started my short story for the Romance Writers of Australia Little Gems 2018 contest about a week out from the deadline.

The day before entries were due I set about writing the last 1000 words of my 3000-word story. I bashed it out in true pantser style, making it up as I went along.

On deadline day, which fell on a Monday so I had to go to work, I sent a missive to a writerly friend to inform her of my utter stupidity.

My mistake. She offered to beta read my story.

I got the story to her that night after work and she sent back her edits in two lots.

I started on the edits around 9.30pm, thinking I would cruise to the midnight deadline.

At 11.45pm, I was frantically attempting to format the hastily finished product and in a haze of exhaustion I whizzed it off with payment, signed forms, etc, by 11.56pm.

I don’t know why I do this to myself. Bonkers.

My beta reader’s keen eye picked up heaps of silly little mistakes and problems around structure.

If I had started to write the story earlier and given myself and my beta reader the time to iron out all the issues, the result would have been a more refined product.

*Shakes Head*