Flash Fiction

Tomorrow (22nd June) is International Flash Fiction Day and to celebrate this I’m taking part in Flash Mob 2013, which is a kind of competition/blog carnival featuring writers from all around the world. You can read some here by clicking on the photograph of each writer.

Up until a year or so ago I didn’t really get flash fiction and it wasn’t something that appealed to me at all. I always have too much to say so there was no way I could narrow it down to 500 words, and especially not 100. I am regularly laughed at for the length of my texts. I ramble endlessly in my emails and when I was studying for a degree my tutor must have got bored with writing ‘try to be a bit more concise’ across the bottom of my essays, the ones that invariably laughed in the face of the word count.

But I read some I really liked in a book called Not So Perfect by Nik Perring and in a conversation with him he suggested I have a go, which I did. And I surprised myself by how much I liked it.

There’s something very pure and stripped back about flash fiction. One thing that often annoys me in fiction is the use of too many flowery adjectives and similes. It feels like it’s all fluff and air and no substance, like I’m being conned. A bit like eating a cheesy puff. Maybe that’s why I like both reading and writing flash fiction, the words are highlighted, every one matters and there’s nowhere to hide. You have to get to the point and there can’t be any fannying around. Some of the most powerful things I’ve read have been in less than 500 words.

It’s not for everybody and some people will never get it. Some people look down on it as an inferior form of writing, as people often look down on the short story as not as ‘proper’ as writing a novel. But with a novel you get time to develop characters and situations, in short stories/flash you don’t and that takes more skill, not less. For me, it’s all practice, it’s all part of the continuous process of finding my voice and discovering what I like to write about and how I like to write it. It’s a great procrastination ploy, a way of putting off getting on with The Novel for another day. It’s also a great way of getting over writer’s block. If I’m stuck and don’t know where to go next I try and write something short, something that doesn’t demand too much time, and it gets me back into writing again.

I also find it impossible to hear or see the words Flash Fiction without having this go through my head, from what is surely one of the best films ever.,and for that reason alone you should all go and read some right now.

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H is for Hubris

This title is a bit tongue in cheek because I think you actually need to be pretty hubristic to use a word like hubris. People who regularly slip Greek and Latin words into everyday sentences are mostly doing it to prove how much cleverer than you are they are, and they need to just shut up. But I was stuck for a letter H.

Being a writer requires you to possess hugely contradicting qualities. On the one hand you need to be sensitive and emotionally aware; you need to be able to lay yourself open and bear your soul. On the other, you need to be thick skinned with an ego that you can bounce rocks off. It’s tough. You sit in your little garret, typing away day after day, nurturing your piece of art. Then suddenly you’re thrust out into the world, blinking in the daylight from under your messy hair, brushing the toast crumbs off your top while everyone examines you under a microscope. You need to be pretty self confident to do this. You’re exposed, everyone has an opinion. It’s like when you’re pregnant and suddenly everyone is touching your stomach. You don’t want them to touch you, or hurt you, but you still want them to tell you how fantastic your baby is.

However, there’s a fine line between self confidence and arrogance and I regularly see authors hurl themselves over this line with abandon, arms flailing wildly. I have to admit that a part of me wishes I had this cockiness, this thick skin. I wish I didn’t really care what people think. But then if I didn’t care about this kind of thing, about feelings etc, I’d probably wouldn’t be able to write. That’s what I tell myself anyway.

But I really hope I don’t turn into one of those writers. The writers who think they’re above it all. It’s often the writers who haven’t quite made it yet, but they’ve had enough attention to feel that they deserve to have made it. These are the same writers who hassle the agents (See the A is for Agent post). Their manuscript isn’t accepted? The agent/publisher must have been having a bad day. The rejection letter? That particular agent must secretly be a wannabe writer themselves and are just jealous, they’re obviously trying to keep all the good books off the market so that when they publish their book there will be no competition.

They argue with their proofreaders, who obviously don’t know what they’re talking about. They don’t need suggestions, they don’t need advice, they’re above all that. They nod and smile and look like they’re taking it all in but inside they’re rehearsing their speech for when they win the Booker prize. They’ve written their book, they know it’s a masterpiece, their mum/wife/husband/dog has told them so, there’s no need to change anything about it. It is perfection.

Hubris tends to mean extreme arrogance and having an exaggerated view of your own abilities that blinds you to the truth. In Greek tragedies this often ended in that person’s ruin, and while I don’t want to see any arrogant writers end up being horribly mutilated by a bull, it is still quite satisfying to see them poke themselves in the eye a little bit with their lyre as they sadly retweet their latest rejection letter.

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