Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Cross-training for Writers

A couple of weeks ago, I picked up this book in a thrift shop while on vacation. This collection of "very short stories" was chosen by staff and students at Wright State University in 1992 and follows three previous collections with some form of "Sudden Fiction" in the title. The introduction touches on this change, explaining the criteria for "Flash Fiction;" basically, it's shorter than sudden fiction. It's interesting to think of the ways short fiction has and hasn't evolved in the past twenty years, with the dawning of Twitter and sound bites, and but then again, Haiku is ancient.

Flash Fiction is a fantastic collection of pieces, really stellar. I kept waiting for the stories to decrease in quality as I went along (this often happens with collections) but they never did. So many searing images and nuanced insights, so much feeling in these short works. There are stories by Carver, Atwood, and Updike, by Mark Strand, Tim O'Brien and Jamaica Kincaid. Lots of authors you may know, and some you probably won't. But all of the stories had something in common: each was a short, vivid experience.

I realized that reading these brief pieces of fiction would be a really great exercise for any writer wishing to think about writing scenes, because that's what many of them were. A writer could do worse than to strive for the immediacy and sensory immersion usually evident in flash fiction. Even in the breadth of a novel, it could be helpful to envision an hourglass when you're writing a scene. Be purposeful, present an experience, create a tension.

Sometimes, I'm asked in interviews to give advice to writers and really, the same thing always comes to mind: READ! Read the type of books you want to write, and read everything else too. Consider yourself an athlete in training. You have to exercise different parts of your brain, like an athlete moves from one muscle group to the next. Read flash fiction to learn about creating impactful scenes. Read poetry to remind yourself of rhythm and beauty, biographies for character insight, non-fiction for cause-and-effect and reason, memoir to experience someone else's feelings. And always, always read fiction because there you will find the most crystallized stories and voices, and grains of sand turned to gem.

1 comment:

  1. I remember this book from ages ago! Thanks for bringing me back to it!


"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka