Shoes and other feet

27 Sep

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.


6 Responses to “Shoes and other feet”

  1. Madeleine McDonald September 28, 2014 at 7:06 am #

    Vicky, for me ideas take form slowly and having a deadline gives me a much needed kick up the backside. I look forward to seeing how the Krampus inspired my fellow contributors.

    • vickykpointing September 28, 2014 at 4:28 pm #

      Thanks Madeleine! I find deadlines useful too.

  2. Paul Howlett October 6, 2014 at 1:15 am #

    I am curious how you define “beautifully written”. Would you define Stephen King’s work as “beautifully written”? I am very interested in your comments on editing Flash Fiction

    • vickykpointing October 6, 2014 at 4:18 pm #

      Hey Paul, thanks for your comment.
      It’s been a long time since I read any Stephen King and I’m not sure my memory of his books is good enough to comment. However, when I talk about things being beautifully written, I’m generally referring to construction and use of language rather than subject matter. Does that clarify my meaning for you at all? I’m only one person anyway, and this post is just my opinion. 🙂

      • Steve Toase (@stevetoase) October 10, 2014 at 11:32 pm #

        When it comes to short fiction, particularly flash fiction, there needs to be an elegance to the writing. The story needs to grip you and carry you through to the end. There needs to be flow to the prose. A parkour of words.

        Also, the reader should not feel cheated. It’s very easy to do a switch and bait in flash fiction and fool the reader. If there is a reveal at the end the reader should be able to go back to the start and see the presence of the ending in the rest of the story. It’s not about genre or subject matter, even style, but a tone to the writing.

        I’m not as familiar with Stephen King’s short stories, but the novels I’ve read are certainly beautifully written.

        However in novels you can have a certain amount of slack in the prose, whereas in flash every word has to count.

        This is just my opinion of what beautifully written means.

      • vickykpointing October 12, 2014 at 10:50 am #

        Thanks for this Steve. 🙂

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