Saturday, July 4, 2009

Learn Flash in a Flash

Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction, Tips from Editors, Teachers and Writers in the Field, edited by Tara L. Masih, published by The Rose Metal Press.

For me an early experience of learning to write stories, of any length, was reading Aristotle’s Poetics. What I mainly learned from that was that reading about how to write usually does more to ruin one’s writing than never reading about writing at all. That said, I own a whole slew of books about the process of writing, and when I am not writing I am often reading them. There is a way to read books about writing, a sort of offhand, “Yes, yes, I get what this says but I will do my best to forget it as quickly as possible.” This is not a book to be forgotten so easily.

This is a book for writers. That is, most readers who are not writers, and who may not have a specific interest in learning to write in the short prose form, would not find this collection of brief essays (most of them brief, as can be expected from writers who are used to cutting their word count to the bone) interesting other than from an historic perspective. By that I mean, this collection may have greater value to the general reader years from now than it does today, particularly after it has made it through a decade of classroom use, as it should. For a writer, however, particularly one who is writing short prose, this is an invaluable resource right now.

As the title suggests, this is a collection of essays, comments, from people who have some sort of international experience with the activity of creation and propagation/distribution of short prose. I know of or have read other work by most of the essayists contained here, and with a few of them I correspond. The ones I do not know, I will seek out, because they all are interesting, experienced, and at the top of their game. If as a writer you want to know what is going on in short prose - I am avoiding use of the word “flash” for no particular reason - then this is the essential guide.

Apparently each contributor was asked to write a brief essay to provide an example, and to suggest an exercise. There is material here to explore for several months of scribbling; for a writer looking for inspiration from which to step forward to write, the exercises should be a good resource. Over time it should be interesting to trace the influence of this book on short prose writing. I believe it will introduce new themes and fuel the current Internet trend toward short “bits” of attention-deficit feeding prose, and also, of course, help us see where the authors featured in this collection are going with their own work.

The caveat, my detraction, goes back to my initial encounter with Aristotle. Although I believe the material in this book is essential, I also find it to be confining, not for any fault of the editor, who has performed an admirable task, but exactly because of the way the approach to short prose of each essayist is revealed. It can be confusing to find so many divergent opinions and viewpoints all together in one swarm. Nevertheless, I suddenly find that I have a better idea of what I did not previously understand. I do not know how long it will take for me to adjust... like finding out that driving your foot on the brake, as you have done for twenty years, is not the optimal method.

My advice for the writer who is learning to write in short prose is to get into the book, sink deep, follow the examples and exercises, explore as many comments and threads to their infinite conclusion... and then walk away and forget all of it, or at least most of it. By then it should be about June of 2015.

Copies may be ordered directly from the publisher at The Rose Metal Press