We’re delighted to welcome Michael Loveday to the blog today.
This article is an adapted extract from his new novella-in-flash craft guide: Unlocking the Novella-in-Flash: from Blank Page to Finished Manuscript (Ad Hoc Fiction, 2022). Available for pre-order at 25% discount before 17th May from Ad Hoc Fiction.
What is a novella-in-flash?
The simplest answer is that a novella-in-flash is a short novel composed of individual but linked flash fictions – each section/chapter/story is fewer than 1,000 words long – in which the individual parts build towards a bigger whole. The 1,000-word limit is important because it’s generally agreed to be the maximum for an individual flash fiction, or short-short story. Many flash fictions are much shorter than that – under 500 words, or sometimes fewer than 250 words.
How is it different from a novella?
The story arc for a novella-in-flash tends to be composed of individual moments, presented with spaces and pauses in between, rather than using the unified and continuous narrative arc of a traditional novel or novella. The novella-in-flash is a marriage of opposites – its short, individual components typically add up to an expansive whole, and yet that whole is often full of gaps.
The modern meaning of ‘novella’ as ‘a short novel’ was settled upon in the 19th century. Most critics and writers suggest that somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000 words, give or take a few thousand, is a fair guideline for a novella’s length.
However, this guideline doesn’t adhere in the case of the novella-in-flash.
The novella-in-flash, because it’s composed of a series of ‘flashes’ (usually miniature stories – but sometimes other kinds of prose fragment), can often deliver a satisfying, extended narrative within a frame of only a few thousand words.
The Bath Flash Fiction Award Novella-in-Flash Competition, for example, which was launched in 2017, sets its minimum word length at 6,000 words, and runs up to a maximum of 18,000. The inaugural competition from the UK’s National Flash Fiction Day team in 2021 set a word length limit of 6,000–12,000 words. As you can see, both of these are much shorter than the accepted length for a traditional novella. And in 2020, Retreat West launched a writing competition for the ‘novelette-in-flash’, a new label to describe manuscripts of between 3,000 and 8,000 words.
What about the ‘novel-in-flash’?
Other novella-in-flash-style texts run to many thousands of words and can be called ‘novels-in-flash’ (or ‘flash novels’). Books such as Graham Swift’s Last Orders (1996), Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum’s Madeleine is Sleeping (2004), Geoff Ryman’s 253 (1996/1998) and Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays (1970) are all between 200 and 350 pages in length, and belong to the novella-in-flash family as taller siblings.
So there is no reason why, if you are setting out to write a novella-in-flash, you shouldn’t keep going for several thousand words more and write a novel-in-flash/flash novel instead, if you prefer.
So is it all just about word count?
The novella-in-flash differs from a traditional novella by more than mere word count; it mimics the long-form aspirations of the novella yet is actually composed of individual flash fictions. It therefore combines two impulses at the same time: expanding and contracting. And it’s a form that often makes use of silence and the unsaid, letting the reader do some imaginative work to fill in other parts of the story that a more traditional, continuous novel would have included, because any overarching plotline is broken into the crucial scenes, moments or fragments.
Can a collection of flash fictions be a novella?
For a set of flash fictions to feel like a novella-in-flash, it must be more than a miscellany of diverse stories. Generally speaking, there ought to be some connecting thread. The thread could be:
- a recurring character or characters
- OR some plot events that are common to most of the flashes
- OR some shared location or setting that ties the flashes together into a whole
- OR, in rarer cases, some very focused theme or motif that has been ruthlessly applied across every flash, perhaps with some linking material or ‘scaffolding’ chapters in between, such that the parts still cohere into one whole.
Is this genre of writing new?
The novella-in-flash is definitely not new, despite its seemingly sudden emergence and recent popularity. Books using the novella-in-flash form were published as long ago as the 1950s. Two early examples are Maud Martha (1953), by Gwendolyn Brooks, and Mrs Bridge (1959), by Evan S. Connell. And really it’s a form rather than a genre. It’s a vessel into which any genre of writing can be poured – crime, fantasy, science fiction, horror, young adult, historical, romance, literary, etc.
Who exactly is publishing novellas-in-flash/Where can I find some novellas-in-flash to read?
Current publishers of novellas-in-flash and novels-in-flash can be divided into:
- smaller, independent publishers (often flash fiction specialists), such as Ad Hoc Fiction , Ellipsis Zine, Rose Metal Press, V. Press, etc.
- major publishers interested in innovative fiction, such as Faber & Faber, Granta, New York Review Books, Penguin Books, Picador, etc.
At the following link, you’ll find a list of publishers and competitions where you could submit a finished novella-in-flash: Where to Publish Novellas-/Novels-in-Flash
Over the decades, there have been hundreds of publications that could be categorised as novellas-in-flash, and dozens more are being published each year. One good place to start is with the small press publishers mentioned in the links above: their websites will direct you to relevant novella-in-flash publications. As of 2021, there is also a free Facebook Group open to everyone interested in the form: Novella-in-Flash Writers and Readers | Facebook
Michael Loveday has been a writer, editor, and tutor of creative writing for more than a decade. He judged the 2019 and 2020 Bath Flash Fiction Novella-in-Flash Awards, and in 2018 began publishing a series of articles about the history and form of the novella-in-flash at SmokeLong Quarterly. Michael’s hybrid novella Three Men on the Edge (V. Press, 2018), which consists of three mini-novellas-in-flash, was shortlisted for the 2019 Saboteur Award for Best Novella. He has taught creative writing in Higher Education since 2017, and he coaches writers and edits novella-in-flash manuscripts through his online mentoring programme at www.novella-in-flash.com.
Author Website: www.michaelloveday.com