I drove up to BCU this week for an ICCW afternoon session with Kit de Waal and a tutorial for my MA. I also took the opportunity to spend some catch-up time with some people I respect and admire – Nafisa, a talented writer I met on the MA, and my MA-notetaker-turned-critical-reader, Saima. With both Saima and Nafisa, it was time well spent and I have to give a great deal of thanks for their support, friendship and encouragement. It was also well worth the face-to-face tutorial with the fantastic Anna Lawrence-Pietroni, though I have brought away a chapter that is absolutely covered with pink notes and comments.
But it was Kit de Waal’s talk that was the richly-decorated, marzipan-and-fondant icing on an otherwise very productive and inspiring 24 hours (we’ll forget the pain). Kit was talking about Flash Fiction as well as her writing process as a whole – 1.5 hours roughly split between the two. As she has won the Bridport Prize for Flash Fiction two years in a row, she is worth listening to.
I was delighted and immensely relieved to find that Kit’s take on flash supported my own feelings on the format: it is a prose micro-story, having a beginning, middle and an end just like any other story. In places, I have noticed that there appears to be a shift towards making flash a kind of poetry or purely an experimental form, but I feel it has potential to express a moment.
That is what Kit stressed: flash is a solid format for tablets and smart phones and one in which a moment in time, an emotion, an insight can be captured and expressed with no need for gimicks, whether in format or in ending (no ‘dreams’ or ‘aliens’, etc). She focussed on the most common 250-word form, but her comments could equally well be applied to the slightly longer 500-word layout. Her advice was to use a three-act structure, to use a very limited number of scenes, perhaps one to three at most, and to focus on very few characters.
The latter may seem obvious – how many people can you get into 250 words anyway? And just how many scenes can you use? But the advice to really use three acts in a (late)start-middle-(early)end structure may not be so obvious. ‘Start late-finish early’ has been a flash maxim for a while, something she repeated to us in the talk, but Kit was quite clear that a solid structure really helps.
Which is interesting as the flash I have won followed such a structure quite clearly.
The other major piece of advice (amongst many) was that of choosing a single moment, emotion, feeling and making that the focus of the flash. It is too short a medium to explore too far, but plenty of surprise is still possible. Kit also said to not worry about the initial length of the story – overwrite substantially and edit down as the process will also maximise the impact of the available words. Moreover, writers should not worry about writing a killer first line straight off the bat – just write and you’ll often find it three or four sentences in.
I could – perhaps should – go on as it was a useful talk on flash. The rest of her talk was quite inspirational, as well, especially when she outlined her journey through a late-life MA in Writing and how to get the best out of such study (throw yourself into it). I guess that piece of advice is standard, but it is worth repeating when you see the success it has brought Kit.
Just go for it.