Recently I was involved in selecting stories submitted for a flash fiction project. It was strange finding myself on the other side of the editor / author relationship, and looking at those stories with an editing head on was very different to reading them for fun (although it was fun too). The process made me think hard about what made a good piece of flash fiction and I thought it might be useful to share what I learnt. Please bear in mind that this is only my opinion, but I’ll definitely be using the points below to try and make my own writing better.
I met the other judge (the lovely, prolific and talented Steve Toase) in a café, where we spent the afternoon and evening reading intently, breaking off every now and then to share our opinions and drink more tea, which kept our brains hydrated. It took quite some time to work through the pile of entries but we eventually had it sorted into ‘yes’, ‘maybe’ and ‘no’.
There were several stories that we both loved immediately, that gave us goosebumps reading them, and that we wished we’d written ourselves. All of these made it into our yes pile, obviously. Then there were many stories – we were spoilt – that were extremely good and which we had to try and choose between. We didn’t always agree, but it was very useful having two of us to judge each piece as we could point things out to each other and argue the case for our particular favourites. We got there in the end and we’re both happy with the final list.
Looking at the twelve flash fictions that we selected, they all seemed to be:
•Clear – everything made sense and we felt confident that the author knew what they were doing with the story
•Original – there were a lot of very interesting slants taken on the Krampus theme
•Beautifully written – Steve and I spent quite a lot of time pointing out the best phrases to each other, and stories with a good flow fared the best.
Interestingly, there were definitely more good stories sent to us close to the deadline, as opposed to as soon as the project was open to submissions. Perhaps the whole ‘put it in a drawer and don’t read it for a while’ idea really has something to it.
That all seems fairly obvious, doesn’t it? But before I send anything else off to any unsuspecting flash fiction magazines or competitions, I’ll be asking myself if my work meets these standards. I’ll also be checking my arms and hoping that my story gives me goosebumps; I suspect that’s the sign of excellent writing.