Here on Daily (w)rite, as part of the guest post series, it is my pleasure today to welcome Mary-Jane Holmes, who offers a smorgasbord of brilliant flash fiction writing tips. If you love reading or writing short fiction, check out her insights in the following interview.
1. What got you started with writing flash fiction?
I came across Yasunari Kawabata’s Palm-of-the-Hand Stories and was hooked. From there, I sought out other flash fiction writers. Many celebrated authors have experimented with short shorts, including Washington Irving, Strindberg, Hemmingway, Carver, Grace Paley… I was impressed with how so little could deliver so much.
2. In your writing universe, what makes a successful piece of flash fiction?
Sam Ruddick, quoted in The Field Guide to Flash Fiction describes this in a nutshell: ‘At their best, these stories will make you pause, tilt your head and say ‘oh’, providing a tiny revelation, a new way of seeing, or a new way of saying something you have seen and been unable to articulate”
3. Other than length, is there a difference between a piece of flash fiction and a short story?
I love what Luisa Valenzuela’s says about the difference between flash and longer genres:
‘I compare the novel to a mammal, be it wild as a tiger or tame as a cow; the short story to a bird or a fish; the micro story to an insect (iridescent in the best cases).
4. Could you name five works of flash fiction you think all writers should read?
Gosh, that’s hard, I want to cheat and list five anthologies however five of my favourites would be:
a. The Dinosaur- Augusto Monterroso b. Yuriko- Yasunari Kawabata c. Weekend- Amy Hempel d. The Light Eater- Kirsty Logan e. That Colour- Jon McGregor
5. You’ve won prestigious awards for your stories. What pointers would you give a writer submitting to contests?
People judging competitions are reading a lot of work in a relatively short period of time so make sure that the situation and setting are a little out of the ordinary, something they won’t have come across before with any luck which will make them sit up and focus. The first line is crucial – it has to do so much, hook the reader, present conflict and seed the outcome. A compelling title is also important; something that adds to the story and isn’t just a summary.
6. Do you agree with the line of thought that flash fiction is easier to read, given our fast lifestyles? Would you say a collection of flash fiction is easier to read than a novel?
Flash is great for our ‘on the go’ lifestyles but good flash fiction is not for the lazy or the inattentive; like poetry, it demands a strong collaborative bond between reader and text to unpack the story from its condensed kernel. Whether it is easier to read a collection of flash fiction than a novel, I am not sure but I think it definitely offers a different experience – the novel is about investing in characters setting out on a long journey, whereas flash zooms in on the intensity of a moment or an emotion.
7. You teach the Flash Fiction Writing Course with Fish Publishing. Could you tell us more about it?
I designed the Flash Fiction course following demand from writers who wanted to explore the genre further but couldn’t find much guidance either online or through writing groups. At the time it was difficult to find workshops exploring Flash and few creative writing institutions offered anything that focused solely on it. It caused a flurry of excitement when it was launched in 2009 and since then has continued to be a very popular program.
8. Which of your stories would you recommend to a reader who has never read your work?
9. I loved your piece Trifle, which was published in the Tishman review and was subsequently selected for the Best Small Fictions 2016. Could you tell us more about how you came to write it?
My brother works for Unicef on the program to eradicate polio from our planet and works a great deal in the Middle East. The prompt for the piece came from the presents he brought back for the family one Christmas and the brave work he does out there.
10. What tips would you give to those starting out on flash fiction writing?
• Read as much of it as possible to get an idea of its range and flexibility.
• Zoom in on a single event, image or object, nothing too big.
• Keep it simple: no more than one or two characters and a simple plot.
• Begin in the middle of the action as close to the story’s epicenter as you possibly can.
• Allow the reader to build the story with you as you don’t have much space; purposeful ambiguity and the power of suggestion are useful tools.
• Be a ruthless editor: adjectives and adverbs should be the first to go.
Mary-Jane Holmes is chief editor of Fish Publishing Ireland where she teaches the longest running online course dedicated solely to Flash fiction. She is also consulting editor at The Well Review, a new international poetry journal.
Her work has been anthologized and published in a variety places including The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Prole, JMWW, The Tishman Review, Firewords, The Lonely Crowd and the Incubator. In 2014 she won the Dromineer Flash Fiction Prize and was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize in 2014 and 2016. Mary-Jane is currently studying creative writing at post graduate level at Kellogg College, Oxford.
Are you a flash fiction writer? Have questions for Mary-Jane? Do you agree with her flash fiction writing tips? Finished a flash piece or published it? Tell us all about it in the comments!
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