Description: Intimidated by the daunting feel of a longer project? Or simply looking for a different way to craft a full-length project? Novels in flash and memoirs in flash are growing in popularity as a perfect marriage of the conclusion of stand- alone pieces and the narrative possibilities of full length books. Authors and editors of the form offer tips on conceptualizing and crafting a longer work-in-flash, highlighting examples, as well as advice on publishing, marketing and teaching the form.
Panelists: Abigail Beckel, Kelsey Parker Ervick, Lex Williford, Tyrese Coleman, Tara Laskowski
Abby Beckel, an editor of My Very End of The Universe, an anthology of five novellas-in-flash from Rose Metal Press opens her remarks with an introduction to flash fiction, mentioning its various hybrids: micro, nano, epistolary, lyric essay, poetic memoir, prose poetry, performative, and pictures made of words. Length of a flash piece is usually between 500-1000 words, and shorter for more hybrid forms.
“Flash fiction and nonfiction writing is all about the punch and the compression of the piece,” she says. “Compression, immediacy and tension are the building blocks for all flash work.”
In writing a novella-in-flash, she explains, the stand-alone nature of the stories is what set them apart from traditional chapters of a novel. The concession and the snap of flash combine with the sustained narrative that connects and builds into a novella or a memoir makes it an ideal experience for a reader—you can read it on one sitting, or make your way through each carefully crafted and arched piece over time. There is less filler and explanation in a flash novella; characters tend to show up more often and big leaps in time and setting can occur which makes for a more alert and challenging reading experience. Writers can use a variety of techniques to create a narrative arc, such as non-linear time structure, or centering entirely on one character.
“If I had to give you a visual example of a flash novella, I would tell you to look you at the stars; each star is a part of larger universal picture, deep with possibilities.”
Lex Williford is the winner of the Rose metal Press Fiction Chapbook Award for Superman on the Roof, and his book, Macauley’s Thumb, was a co-winner of the Iowa School of Letters Award for Short Fiction. Currently he is the chair of the bilingual MFA program at the University of Texas.
Williford used an excellent visual example for his presentation—a necklace of safety pins. He explained that he wears this so his students can see that writing is painful and can sometimes draw blood. The pins, when left open can hurt, but all readers must be made to feel something, or there is no point to the work.
“The stuff that is memorable, usually hurts,” Williford said.
“These safety pins represent closure; chapters tend to be open ended, and flash tends to be more finished, with an image or dramatic moment that turns the story back in on itself. In the novella-in-flash, each one of these moments are linked to the next, creating a necklace of stories, a fully completed piece—each closed but connected.” (Williford)
The trick in writing flash, he concludes, is when to open, and when to close the story and at what point.
Tyrese L. Coleman is the fiction editor for District Lit, an online Journal of Writing and Art. She is a Kimbilio fiction Fellow and a Virginia Quarterly Review Nonfiction Scholar. She has a writing background in poetry, flash-memoir and flash-fiction. Her writing voice, she says, is a cross between fiction, prose-poetry and memoir, and she is currently working on a memoir-in- stories—a chain of linked ideas that give the reader an idea of who she is. She carefully chose certain elements and scenes from her life that don’t necessary connect, but relate tangentially.
Tyrese stress that the style of flash is immediate, verbally impactful, punchy and when it’s done, makes the reader cock her head and say, “Wow, I want to read more of that.” It is less, she says, of a stripping down in its brevity, then a building up of tension with every sentence and word pulled as tight as a wire. Tyrese says:
“But the combination of verse and prose is difficult to maintain in longer stories. I carefully distill the poetic voice and figurative language and use the character of flash to combine the prose into a longer story, drawing a fine line to hold the reader’s stamina and interest in the piece.”
Kelcey Parker Ervick, a teacher at Indiana State University, is the author of The Bitter Life of Bozena Nemcova, a hybrid work of biography, memoir, and art. She is the author of two award winning works of fiction, For Sale by Owner, and Liliane’s Balcony.
Ervick is a fan of the fairy tale, and while on a recent journey across the country, she utilized what she called “The Post Card Method” of epistolary writing to record a series of events while traveling. These individual stories were written in the short segmented form—each one on a separate postcard—to no-one person. The cards had no formal structure and were just random thoughts with no timeline, asking the reader to question where she was in time and space. Utilizing Sue William Silverman’s Voice of Innocence and later, Voice of Experience, she could prioritize clarity over form in this writing experiment, and eventually by journey’s end, produce a memoir-in –flash from her collection of work.
Tara Laskowski is the author of Modern Manners for Your Inner Demons and Bystanders. Her fiction has been published in numerous journals magazines and anthologies. She is a SmokeLong Quarterly Kathy Fish Fellowship award winner, and an editor of that journal. She also co-writes the column Long Story Short at the Washington Independent Review of Books.
Tara believes using flash is a great way to “trick yourself” into working toward a longer piece. She asked all the participants if they felt using flash in this way worked for them and why? Here are their answers:
- “It’s less intimidating to use smaller scenes written separately then putting them together later. It makes the events more powerful, natural and organic if I don’t have to worry about a time line in the moment I am writing.” (Williford)
- “You can take a character that is too big for one entire book and distill her down into a flash piece.” (Coleman)
- “It allows novella not to be exhaustive for the reader, and it allows me, the writer, more play in my work.” (Beckel)
- “Flash allows for multiple narrators. I like that aspect of it.” (Ervick)
Finally, the panelists agree teaching novella-in-flash is the wave of the future. This contemporary writing method, all panelists agree, teaches their students to “eliminate the boring stuff” from their work. Setting a watch for fifteen minutes and having them write only that long from simple prompts get the students to dig into the kernel and heart of their story—a very effective way to teach modern writing.
Ryder S. Ziebarth is a recent MFA graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts and an Associate editor of Tiferet Journal. Her work has appeared in Brevity, N Magazine, The New York Times, The Writer’s Circle, Tiferet, and many other other blogs, newspapers and online journals. In May, she will begin co-teachiing a series of short prose nonfiction workshops for Tiferet Journal.