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Flashes of inspiration

by Jeff Phelps on September 9th, 2015

Blakenhall Writers’ Group in Wolverhampton asked me to lead a Saturday morning workshop about short stories… it’s flash fiction, and they’re preparing an anthology, as a look at their website will tell you, on the subject of ‘identity.’  Entries from non-members are welcome, so it’s a great chance to see your work in print.

I found myself asking ‘what exactly is flash fiction, anyway?’  I’ve seen  requirements for pieces as short as six words – that seems more like a shopping list – or as long as 1200.  Sometimes the boundaries between prose and poetry almost seem to disappear.  The Blakenhall group have chosen 500 words as their upper limit, which is a pretty good place to settle, I think.  It’s about a page and a half.  You can do a lot in that space.

In my panic-stricken researches I’ve seen instructions that insist that flash fiction must have a beginning, a middle and an end – just like a full-length story or a novel.  I’m not sure it works like that.  There isn’t room in a very short piece to set out a situation, make full-scale character development and resolve a plot.  As well as some stunning very short stories, I’ve seen pieces of flash fiction that really don’t work because they are summaries of something that ought to be much longer.  Who wants to read a summary?  We want an experience, even in a page.

Flash fiction needs to be intriguing and to have a sense of possibility – that it might lead somewhere.  It needs to be complete.  It shouldn’t just be a description or a short story trying to escape.  All that in 500 words.  Tall order.  Maybe it comes down to something Tess Gallagher said: Tell me… something I can’t forget.

I’m delighted to hear that the workshop on Saturday 12th September 2015 is already full.  That suggests people hope to find the answers to some of those questions.  I trust, between us, we’ll have a go at that, perhaps be a little inspired and maybe start some writing for that anthology.

…and if, after all that, you still have flash fiction looking for a home, Shrewsbury flash fiction are also on the lookout for fresh content for their website.   



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