Flash Fiction, or How I Came to Smokelong Quarterly’s Summer Workshop

After participating in Smokelong Quarterly’s Summer Workshop for flash fiction, I mentally am exhausted.

Okay, so what is flash fiction?

Basically, it’s a self-contained story under 1000 words, usually under 750 words. Micro fiction usually comes under 500 words, tho’ there are six-word stories, eleven word stories, drabbles (exactly 100, and its origin lies in SF, tho’ it’s bee used extensively in fanfiction). These constitute flash fiction, which can also be called sudden fiction. Terms and word lengths, like periodization in history, can be arbitrary.

A six-word story of mine: Hockey skates. Blades rusted, joy forgotten.

Flash shares a great deal with lyric poetry—as the novel does with epic poetry. With flash and lyric poetry, it’s about an intense, emotional experience. The finished product reads so quickly, in the time to smoke a cigarette, (origin of the journal’s name, Smokelong) that it looks, and even feels when done right, simple, effortless.

That’s totally deceptive.

It isn’t as easy as it looks because, even more than in a regular short story, every word does multiple jobs. Writing flash teaches efficiency, focus, emotionality, tone and diction. It fuses story and character arc. Plot is the least important of Aristotle’s unities.

I didn’t write any flash, but the idea intrigued me.

I started with a couple of classes with Lynn Schwartz—she’s fantastic—and I struggled with the form. I tended toward wordiness and overthinking and explanation. Not needed in flash fiction, probably not in anything else, either. After several abortive efforts, I produced some good work. Encouraged after these classes, I decided I wanted more, so I signed up for Smokelong Quarterly’s Summer Workshop. I could do more work and find out what the editors are looking for.

Even if you weren’t the fastest writer, any consistent attempt to keep up with the workshop resulted in exhaustion—twelve weeks, five writing tasks per week equal one per workday, so potentially sixty stories in draft form. Plus, there was all the good flash you got to read as exempla of the task at hand. The editors gave no direct instruction—except on how to give critique—rather, an overview of the idea, the reading, and the task, so it was definitely the learn by doing model.

I’m a slow to medium-paced writer: two stories per week was a good rate. Of course, not all the tasks resonated, no surprise there.

The workshop required members to provide feedback as much as possible, trying to get to all the group-mates at least one. At least, that was my plan. It didn’t always work out that way. Extensive critiques pretty much fell by the wayside after the first two weeks. There were things to which I couldn’t give reasonably useful criticism, like stream-of-consciousness stories (sorry, Faulkner), though I concede it can work really well in this short, short form. Likewise, present tense narration (aka the historical present tense), which I despise, in longer works (thanks, MACHIAVELLI IN HELL), can be perfect in the flash form.

I may be exhausted, but I’ve clearly unbent a little.

Issues I discovered after the workshop—I’m wedded to plot and have a hard time with a single focus. I’ll keep writing flash because it’s such an excellent exercise for honing that skill. Prompts don’t work well for me—if they only spark a ‘meh’ in me, I’m not about to devote serious time and effort to them. Flash, I have to feel.

Overall, I would count a Smokelong Summer a success, but I’m not sure I’d do it again. I didn’t sign up for either the Afterglow (another 12 weeks of flash writing) or the year-long Flash Fitness program. I don’t love flash that much. And I couldn’t and didn’t work on anything else while I participated in the workshop.

Sorry, not sorry. I have other projects to finish, but they’ll be better written for the Smokelong Summer.

Copyright KG Whitehurst
webmaster: kgw@KGWhitehurst.com