Monday 27 July 2009

The Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction

My thanks to Jacky Taylor for this review.

'A successful flash enchants us, each small story successfully rendered engulfing us for a brief moment... in its own brand of light, or truth.' So says Tara Masih in her informative and engaging introduction to the Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction, published by the Rose Metal Press.

Flash fiction is a burgeoning form in this twenty first century, and Masih informs us that it has actually been around much longer than most people think – since the early part of the nineteenth when Washington Irving and Edgar Allan Poe were amongst its earliest proponents.

Now, in this age of compression, where all aspects of life are crammed ever more cheek by jowl, the flash seems the ideal bite-size fiction to savour in those increasingly brief moments we have to ourselves. So it follows that as the flash itself garners more attention, with a high online profile and a growing number of writers engaging in the form, the inevitable 'How To Do It' books should start pouring from the publishers.

There are many writing guides brought in on the wave of creative writing courses steadily multiplying across the globe. There are good ones and bad ones: the Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction is definitely a good one; I would even say a very good one. It doesn't promise unparalleled success or anything else it can't deliver, but does provide real insight into how writers work in this medium doing by exactly what it says on the cover – providing guidance that gently leads the would-be flash writer along the path to making their own work truly shine.

Collectively, the twenty five essays contained here explore the different facets of writing good flash fiction and such a prismatic approach reveals much of the art to writing the very best of them. The authors, many distinguished and multi-award winners amongst them, are all actively engaged in the form as either writers, teachers or editors – some in all three – and precisely because of this experience, they don't mess around but go straight to the heart of what they want to say. Each focuses on an aspect of either writing, teaching or editing flash fiction and, as forceful advocates of the form, what they convey is frequently eloquent, often illuminating, always passionate.

The book covers ten main areas ranging from 'In Defense of the Exercise', through others such as 'Beginnings and Endings' and 'Taking Risks' to 'A Call to Action'. Each of these is further defined by the essays themselves with inevitable titles like Expose Yourself to Flash and Flash in the Pan, but don't let that put you off: under the puns you'll find some incisive, educative writing.
Many sections are inspiring and with the added bonus of both top-notch examples of the form, and exercises to get the creative juices flowing, this makes the volume an invaluable addition to any writer's reference collection. A couple of the contributors do get a little caught up in their own philosophising but are no less interesting for that, and there are some truly inspiring pieces to get fingers flashing across keyboards and pens moving in hot little hands.

It seems churlish to single out specific authors from the pack when so much of the writing here is good, but both Jennifer Pieroni and Vanessa Gebbie deserve a special mention for getting me to briefly abandon this review, in order to go and write a new flash myself! I really can't think of a better recommendation than that.

Jacky Taylor is an Arts Education professional and lives in Portsmouth. She has worked as a teacher, lecturer, community arts practitioner, arts administrator and welfare rights advisor. The first three pages of her novel won second prize at the Winchester Writers' Conference; she has now written the other two hundred and ninety five pages of it, and has just started submitting her work.


Nicola Slade said...

I'd never really come across flash fiction before Jane started up the Greyling Bay blog, but now I find it quite liberating.

Philip Sington said...

I can't quite picture writing as a 'flashy' activity. At least, it never is with me. But then, I'm lousy at typing...

PS: Jane, I'm having trouble again raising you via e-mail. Can you get in touch? Many thanks.

Jane Smith said...

Philip, thank goodness you commented here! I've been replying--but not hearing back from you!

I'm away for a few days, and so can't check spam filters etc on my desktop: but if you could please wait until the end of the week when I'll be home again, I'll see if your replies have gone astray at my end; and if not, do you have an alternate email address which might work better?

So sorry for the problem: I'm sure we can sort it out.

Philip Sington said...

No problem at all. Here are two other e-mail addresses that ought to work:


You might also try:

although the last of these automatically routes to my regular e-mail address; so we might have the same problem!


Jac Cattaneo said...

An excellent review, which does justice to an inspriring and insightful book.

And Philip - flash fiction may be short, often very short, but it's hardly ever 'flashy'. Some flashes I have read are incisive, some are whimsical, some profound. Many writers of my acquaintance can write a flash in twenty minutes; I take longer to grapple with the form. As the apocryphal quotation (Pascal or Twain or Voltaire) goes: 'I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I've written a long one instead.'

Thank you Jacky, for a succinct and informative review.

Jacky Taylor said...

Thanks for your comments Jac. I'm fairly new to flash fiction myself, but agree with Nicola in finding it really liberating. It can also help with kickstarting longer pieces too as you really have to hone the essentials; it concentrates your focus on what matters.

As Jac says, some people can create one in twenty minutes others can take weeks–it's up to you.

Jessica Brown said...

I absolutely adore writing flash. There's something about the challenge of fitting a complete story inside such tiny constraints that really gets my imagination going.

I'm going to have to check this book out. Thank you so much for bringing it to my attention!

Zoe King said...

One of the things I love about flash fiction is that you can take risks, launch yourself into something, and it doesn't matter if it doesn't work. The best flashes imo come from profound 'flashes' of imagination and energy, seemingly out of nowhere, and so often when you tackle them, you find yourself taken completely by surprise.

Excellent review, Jacky. I can't wait to read the book!

Zoe King