Thank you very much to Cath Barton for this excellent review of Going Short – An invitation to flash fiction by Nancy Stohlman which was published last month by our short-short press, Ad Hoc Fiction and is available for sale from Ad Hoc Fiction, Amazon in print and digital and Kobo. Signed copies are also for sale directly from Nancy. It is FlashNano this month, (a month long writing prompt opportunity offered by Nancy for the past eight years) and Nancy is offering a two-for-one deal on signed copies of Going Short directly from her website. Cath supplied the first great prompt on November 1st for FlashNano. A clue – it’s suitable for a rainy day and you can find it on Nancy’s website. Read Cath’s review and buy the book to help you write 30 flashes this month, such a very positive thing to do in these challenging times.
A primer on flash fiction is a valuable addition to the study text material available for writers. Such a work penned by one of the doyennes of contemporary flash, Nancy Stohlman, is particularly welcome. Published by Ad Hoc Fiction in their Master Class Series, Going Short brings together in one reference book Stohlman’s insights developed and garnered from her work teaching the art of flash fiction over more than a decade.
Written in flash form, the book provides both guidance for those new to the flash form and invaluable reminders and additional tips for those who have already embarked on a journey into this terrain. Whether or not it is your primary area of interest as a writer, Stohlman maintains that learning the skills you need to write good flash fiction will benefit you and that ‘you’ll cultivate a sharper instinct to what’s truly necessary in your work.’ As someone who writes in both flash and longer forms, I certainly agree with that. The constraints of a limited word length mean you have no room for waffle, something we can do without in all writing.
- Divided into sections and chapters which make it easy to navigate, Going Short covers a lot of ground but, in true flash style, succinctly. Stohlman offers routes into and through this not-yet-fully-explored country of short form story-telling, tackling some myths and offering ways of what she calls ‘bribing the muse.’
I was pleased to try out, for example, an approach new to me which Stohlman calls zooming. It has nothing to do with a particular means of communication which has become familiar to most of us in recent months: you’ll need to buy Going Short to find out what it means in the context of flash fiction!
Do not, however, make the mistake of thinking that this book will offer you tricks or shortcuts to producing good flash fiction. Stohlman is very clear that while your first draft is a time to play, editing is where the hard work of making your story as good as it can be takes place. She offers a range of specific techniques under the heading of sculpting, to which she devotes a considerable section of the book. She quotes Michelangelo talking about the creation of his statue of David: ‘I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.’ The analogy with the art of the sculptor is exact: working in precise detail on your story to strip away what is not needed will release its essence.
Stohlman’s passion for everything about flash fiction shines through in this book, and her enthusiasm is inspiring. She offers a range of ideas to help you think about ordering your flashes into a collection, referencing Japanese flower-arranging and concert setlists as well as the accidental and random. ‘Try them all,’ she says, ‘lest we take ourselves too seriously.’ However, she does advocate a very serious approach to promoting your own work.
Written in sparkling style by an unapologetic apologist for the form, Going Short is a splendid manifesto for flash fiction, to be recommended to fans and sceptics alike.
Cath Barton’s prize-winning novella, The Plankton Collector, is published by New Welsh Review. Her second novella, In the Sweep of the Bay, is published by Louise Walters Books in November 2020. She is active in the on-line flash fiction community.