Somewhere between the linear narrative and the post-postmodern fracturing of narrative, there might be a third way, dependent on its brevity as its primary descriptor… Rusty Barnes
As we know, the short form is a great medium to experiment with as it has the art of brevity and flexibility on its side. What might become insistent or annoying in longer forms – multiple perspectives, unusual point-of-view, poetic language – in small doses can be refreshing and entertaining. Techniques such as collage, association, counterpointing are all devices that really come into their own when putting together a novella-in-flash and I think the opening of Meg Pokrass’s essay in The Rose Metal Press publication (2014) My Very End of the Universe focusing on the study of the form is excellent in illustrating the process of writing in this genre:
‘If you ask an artist who creates crazy quilts how they come up with their designs, that artist will likely tell you that each finished project originates from an emotional place. Each quilt is different because it is made of many found scraps and pieces of cloth in different sizes with no regular colour or pattern—the sleeves of an old work shirt, perhaps, or the skirt of a wedding dress. Similarly, the writing of a novella-in-flash involves working with flash fiction fragments and stories by linking them together to form a layered, narrative arc. Working in both art forms demands an improvisational spirit. regarding the creation of both content and structure. A novella-in-flash writer and a crazy quilt artist both become familiar with navigating incompletion and juxtaposition. Both art forms involve delving into the most unlikely places and finding pieces which, when put together, create an untraditional whole’.
Meg talks about reviving and re-visioning narratives that were gathering dust in a ‘metaphorical scrap bag’ and this seems to be something that many novella-in-flash-writers start out doing – taking pieces that haven’t worked out on their own and finding that they were all along, part of a bigger picture. Moral of this – never throw any writing away! In my case, I started out with a clear plan of what I wanted to do but thought it would be a simple short story about a stonemason who fell off a church steeple and the consequences of this accident for his family. This was a true story about my neighbour and I quickly wrote myself into a corner with it, due perhaps to trying to cling to the biographical details which is always a risk.
When we try to stay ‘true’ to the facts we tend to not see what the story needs. Luckily Flash was there to help me. As an exercise, I stepped out of his narrative arc and imagined all the other people involved, collating little stories about them and experimenting with point of view. It soon came to light that the story wasn’t about the father, but the daughter and interestingly although she became the protagonist, the story arc changed depending on what flash was placed next to another flash.
This idea of juxtaposition is interesting and I soon learnt that in a work of art everything is laden with affect, and whenever you put two of anything together, a third thing emerges. Importantly, the things that logic would normally try to keep separate the writer brings together. It is very liberating to work in this way and was a sort of epiphany for me. It is my belief that there are two components necessary for our growth as writers. The first is our ability to access the unconscious, and the second is our willingness to take risks. Risk taking and experimentation allow us to bring something fresh to our practice, preventing us writing the same thing over and over again – pushing the boundaries of our craft and the richness of our stories.
So here is a little exercise you can do to try out your novella-in-flash muscles and to give you an idea of how fun it can be to make a patchwork flash. I can’t take credit for it – this is an exercise created by that great Flash Maker, Randall Brown.
Preparing for Counterpointed Flash
- Take the structure – A-B-A-B-A-B Choose how many short pieces you want. Here I suggest 6 each of 250 words.
- A (one thing) / B (another thing)
- Options are unlimited for As and Bs
- A is fiction; B is nonfiction (or vice-versa); both are fiction/cnf; parallel events; and so on.
- Dissimilarity adds tension (how will these two things ever come together is a question that will raise expectation for the reader)
- Images/words from A begin to seep into B, more and more
- The final section might be AB
- Where this juxtaposition of A/B leads us becomes “shattering”
- We would not have arrived there with A alone or B alone
- A surprising, profound meaning has been figured out by the end.
Join Amanda and myself for a weekend of interactive, supportive flash writing on the Flash Weekender from April 17th -19th. Then we have a 2 weekend Memoir-in-Flash course from May 8th – 10th and May 15th – 17th. We then have a month of wonderful prompts for the whole of June in our first Micro Fiction Month!
Mary-Jane Holmes has work included in The Best Small Fictions Anthology in 2016, 2018 and 2020. Her microfiction has recently been included in Best Microfictions 2020. A twice nominated Forward Prize nominee and Hawthornden Fellow, Mary-Jane has won The Bath Novella-in-Flash Prize 2020, the Bridport, Martin Starkie, Dromineer, Reflex Fiction and Mslexia Flash Fiction prize, plus the International Bedford Poetry competition.
She has been shortlisted and commended for many more including the Beverley International Prize for Literature 2020, The Troubadour and Oxford Brookes Poetry prize 2019. She was long-listed for the National Poetry Prize in 2020. Mary-Jane’s debut poetry collection Heliotrope with Matches and Magnifying Glass is published by Pindrop Press. She enjoys teaching creative writing both online and in person (when possible) around the world. She holds an Mst (distinction) in Creative Writing from Kellogg College Oxford and is currently working on a PhD at Newcastle University. @emjayinthedale www.mary-janeholmes.com