Imagination Overload

Calum Kerr
Calum Kerr

Today I’d like to share a post about how genre fiction lends itself to the short form, from prolific flash fiction writer and National Flash Fiction Day organiser extraordinaire, Calum Kerr. There’s also a fantastic story at the end. Enjoy!

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Yesterday, over on Nettie Thomson’s blog, I talked about how I had turned away from writing horror stories until flash-fiction steered me back to the dark side. That got me thinking about flash-fictions and how they work for genre writing.

It’s an interesting issue. I have read, and written, a lot of flash-fictions which might be considered ‘literary’ or at least ‘realist’ in that they occur in the real, recognisable world.

To a large extent, flash-fictions often rely on the reader’s understanding of the world so that when something is referred to or implied, there is no lack of understanding, and the reader provides the necessary extra information from their own knowledge. When using this kind of shorthand, there isn’t always time for world-building or setting up complex scenarios, such as those needed in science-fiction and fantasy writing.

However, if the writer assumes an informed audience, then this can be overcome. I’m not simply talking about an audience well-versed in the particular genre of the story, but an intelligent audience who can make the same leap that you, as the writer, makes when creating the story. Small details, as in any flash, can convey a huge amount, and the rest falls into place by extrapolation.

One of the problems that a number of writers have – and something I see a lot in the work of those just starting out – is an assumption (to be fair, usually unconscious) that the reader is not quite as clever or clued up as you, the writer, and so things need to be explained. This leads to sprawling narratives where everything needs to be said two or three times, just to make sure the reader isn’t getting lost.

When I write flash, I assume the reader is keeping up. If they get lost, well, they can always read it again. The stories are short, it won’t take long.

And that, for me, is why genre stories can work so well in flash-fiction. You can create, not just a version of this world, but a version of any world. You can do it in a few words, and with a few salient details, and the pictures are then painted on the canvas of the reader’s imagination. If I mention a green Renault Clio in a ‘realist’ story, then anyone who’s ever seen one of those will be picturing the same thing. If I mention ‘a sleeper ship, plying the stars, filled with a frozen population’ then everyone reading will either know what I’m talking about or be able to work it out, but each individual will see a different ship, with a different layout, with the frozen bodies stored in different ways.

As a writer, using flash-fiction to write genre stories, I can use a larger and more varicoloured palette, and at the same time make it much more personal for each reader.

So, does flash-fiction work for genre writing?

Affirmative.

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Calum Kerr is a writer, editor, lecturer and director of National Flash-Fiction Day in the UK. He lives in Southampton with his wife –  the writer, Kath Kerr –  their son and a menagerie of animals. His new collection of flash-fictions, Lost Property, is now available from Cinder House.

Read on for a great example of genre flash…

Shock Corridor

By Calum Kerr

“This area is non-operational!” came the calm voice over the speaker.

Injit was not calm. He was running for his life.

Behind him the bulkhead door shot closed with a blast of air that wanted to knock him from his feet. He rode it, letting it carry him, and then planted his feet and kept going.

A crash and roar rocked the station as the section behind him crumpled and surrendered to the vacuum. Fuel cells detonated and tremors rocked the floor under Injit. He staggered and bounced against the wall, but he stayed on his feet and carried on.

There had been no warning. He didn’t know what had happened. A momentary hole in the shield? A micro-meteor just too large and travelling just too fast to be stopped? It didn’t matter now. The imperative was to get away from the rolling collapse and get safe.

Gravity shifted under him and the floor became a slope. Injit dropped forward, his palms hitting the floorplates and skidding in blood. He ignored the pain and scrabbled forward, clawing his escape.

If he could reach the central hub, he could get to the shuttle and away. If the collapse stabilised he could return and begin repairs. If not, there was enough food, water and air in the shuttle to last him six weeks, long enough for help to come if he was lucky. But first he had to get there.

He clambered up and into the next section, sprawling over the raised threshold into the normal gravity on the far side. He dragged his feet after him, pressed them to the ridge to boost himself upwards as the door flashed down just missing his heel. It was followed by the calm voice repeating its warning, barely audible over the crumple-crash of collapsing metal.

Injit’s legs were starting to thrum in tune with the collapsing station, but he staggered on stiff legs and kept moving forward.

He was nearing the next section, just one away from the hub, when the lights started to flicker.

“This area is… This… non… This… Th-th-th-thhhrrrrrrrr…”

In the frantic strobing, Injit slowed, and then an arc of electricity grounded to the plates in front of him with a bang. Injit pulled himself to a stop and watched as the corridor between him and the hub was lit by a lightning storm.

He looked back, but all was dark behind him. The sounds of creaking and crumpling were continuing. He couldn’t go back. He couldn’t stay here.

He faced forward, took a deep breath and thought of home.

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Thanks Calum!

What do you think? Does genre work in flash? Comments welcome, as always.

National Flash Fiction Day: A Debrief

So unless you’ve been living on the moon for the last few months, you’ll know that National Flash Fiction Day was on Wednesday. To re-cap – this was an event that celebrated flash fiction, i.e. very short stories, usually written quite quickly and generally focussing on a brief moment in time (that’s my definition, but there’s nothing set in stone). There were events online and all over the country (and international events too) – you can read more about it on the website and blog. When I saw the first announcement about it on twitter, I immediately jumped in with both feet.

Once Upon A Time

My first port of call was to contact Anna Meade at Yearning For Wonderland and ask if she’d like to collaborate on a competition. ‘It’s not just for UK writers,’ I begged her… and after her recent success with The Fairy Ring contest, I was keen to run something similar. An open competition where writers post their stories on their own blogs and link them all together. The lovely thing about The Fairy Ring was the way that everyone supported each other, read each other’s entries, and generally caused a Twitter frenzy. After lots of time-zone limited discussions with Anna, we came up with Once Upon A Time (#ouatwriting) and started madly promoting using our alter-egos… she, #fairyqueen and I, #darkfairy. Sometimes these personas switched. The result was a whole sheaf of fabulous prizes, including books, t-shirts and general adoration. We exceeded expectations and received 88 fantastic entries. It was very difficult to choose the winners. I had a rather long shortlist, as did Anna, and guess what? They were almost completely different! After a few painful discussions, we both did another re-read and came up with a much shorter list, and finally, the winners.

Oliver Barton’s ‘Pink Bells‘ was just the perfect, poignant tale. Angela Readman‘s ‘A Mermaid in Texas’ was just so completely raw and stunning, it stuck with me from the very first time I read it. McKenzie Barham‘s ‘I can show you the world’, felt so unbelievable real, it just blew me away. Then there was the gorgeous fan favourite, ‘Three Simple Words’ by Cory Eadson… There were many, many others worthy of a mention too, and I realised I had to do something about this – we couldn’t just celebrate the winners…

So I had the bright idea of putting them all together into an anthology… I wanted to celebrate the competition, but I underestimated the difficulty and time-constraints of putting a book together. It turned into a logistical nightmare, trying to coordinate 88 entries into a book, when each one was formatted according to individual taste on everyone’s own blog… everyone’s editing style was just ever so slightly different: single or double quotes, curly or straight, short or long hyphens, double spaces at the start of sentences, breaks between paragraphs, and my personal favourite – using spaces instead of tabs! Writers, PLEASE don’t so this – it makes editing a complete nightmare 🙂 As for typos, everyone does the now and again – how many times have you read a published book and find them? The odd one isn’t an issue, but if there are a lot, it does look sloppy (Note: this doesn’t apply to any of the entrants!) Then, of course, I had to contact everyone to ask for their permission, to make sure I had their link details for the author info, and to chase up people with missing information… My email decided to cause me a few problems there, but I got in touch with everyone in the end! Anyway, it’s almost done and I’ll be posting details of where you can buy it soon 🙂

FlashFlood

Then came my next activity (note: I have not even mentioned writing anything myself yet…) I volunteered my services and was very pleased to be chosen as one of the 7 editors for the FlashFlood Journal (I also chose the name *ahem*). This involved us all taking a stint on the accept/reject and posting schedule. I’m not telling you which day I was on, but it was non-stop until midnight, then actually a fair bit past that, tidying up the inbox etc. It was a crazy experience (especially towards the end when the emails started bouncing back for no apparent reason)… Stories were flying in quicker than I could read them. I managed it by giving each one a quick read, then moving on, then going back to each one again – then a lot of the time, filing it for a third read. Some stories didn’t make it to the third read, and it wasn’t because they were bad. Mostly it was because they just didn’t grab me, even if the writing was beautiful. Others didn’t make it because I just didn’t understand them! That might’ve just been me though… the whole selection process is very subjective and each editor has their own likes and dislikes. FYI – some of my ‘not sure’ stories got 4or 5 reads – it was that difficult.

However, a few stand-out things that led to my third read (and remember this is only my opinion)

  1. A great title (seriously – if I have to pick from a pile of similar stories, the best title will win)
  2. A great opening line/paragraph
  3. A quirky subject that I haven’t already just read in similar forms in 20 other stories

Funnily enough, these three elements are things that I try hard to think about with my own writing. That, and a good ending. It doesn’t have to be definitive, but it has to be satisfying. I like twists too, but they have to work well. I won’t tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t write, but if you use your twist to tell us that ‘and all along the main character was an animal’ then you better write it well or else it leaves me disappointed! Again, just my opinion. My last thought on this (and some, but not all of the other editors agreed) is that don’t write stuff TOO depressing. It doesn’t have to be funny or crazy, that doesn’t always work either unless it’s written well; but after you’ve read a few miserable tales about funerals and cancer and break-ups, you get a bit fed up with them, even if they are beautifully written (before anyone says anything, yes, I am guilty of the odd bit of misery myself, that’s not the point here – we all do it!) I also learnt something else – as tempting as it might be to email the editors when you’ve received a rejection – don’t. They really and truly don’t have time to give feedback, especially on a project like this where the submissions came in over a short period of time and were being set up for posting on a schedule. I think we all tried our best to respond to everyone, but now having been on the other side, I appreciate how frustrating it must be for anyone hoping for feedback.

So – to sum up – being involved in both of these competitions was a  great experience and a great insight, and (being a glutton for punishment) I would love to do it again.

Stuff that I wrote

As for my own writing… *Beware – I am blowing my own trumpet here*

  1. ‘Shed’ was published in the National Flash Fiction Day Anthology, Jawbreakers
  2. ‘Message’ was published on 1000 Words
  3. ‘Sweet Sixteen’ was published in the Raging Aardvark Twisted Tales Anthology
  4. ‘Nightcrawler’ was published in Chris White’s Photocopier Press Pamphlet
  5. ‘The Rock’ was published on the FlashFlood Journal (note: subject to the editing process, like everyone else!)
  6. ‘Uncle Charlie’ was written and posted on the Write-in Blog on National Flash Fiction Day
  7. ‘Beware: Swans’ will be included in the Once Upon A Time Anthology

I also posted a flashpoint that I wrote in a pub 🙂

What’s next?

And now that it’s all over, I’m reverting back to my *To Write* list… which is ever growing (and includes getting back on with ‘the novel’)…

Thanks to everyone who’s been involved in the above, and a big big thanks to King of Flash, Calum Kerr for the excellent work he put in to creating  and executing National Flash Fiction Day… someone buy that man a cake!!

The Jawbreakers Anthology is Here!

Can we have a little drum roll please?

I am very excited to have one of my flash fictions included in the National Flash Fiction Day Anthology: Jawbreakers 🙂

This is the cover…

There are so many brilliant writers in here, I still can’t quite believe I’ve made it. All the story titles are one word long and mine is called “Shed”.  That’s all I’m giving away for now 😉

The book will be out very soon, and when it is I will post details of where you can get it from 🙂 Meanwhile, there are still lots of other things you can get involved in for this years National Flash Fiction Day on 16th May – keep checking  the website for updates!

***UPDATE 26th April***

You can pre-order the book  now, via this link 🙂