Chicago, IL | March 1, 2012

Episode 64: Flash Fiction: How and Why to Teach It

(Kona Morris, Jayne Anne Phillips, Tom Hazuka, Robert Shapard, Kim Chinquee) If we can accept that flash fiction is indeed its own distinct genre, then a discussion remains about how and why to teach it. Does it deserve its own course? What is the flash canon? How can the conventions of poetry and prose apply? What does the accessibility of its short form offer the classroom? In this panel, a variety of instructors, from MFA directors to adjuncts, as well as writers and editors specializing in the genre, will discuss the methodology and canon for teaching flash fiction.

Published Date: July 3, 2013


Speaker 1 (00:00:04):

Welcome to the A W P Podcast series. This event was recorded at the 2012 A W P conference in Chicago. The recording features Kona Morris, Lena Rogan Roper, Tom Mazua, and Robert Sheard.

Speaker 2 (00:00:24):

Hi everybody and welcome to Flash Fiction, how and Why to Teach it, and just a quick announcement. We've had a couple panelists who unfortunately can't be here, Kim Chinway and Jann Phillips. Unfortunately, neither of them are able to be here today, but it is my honor to introduce the rest of our distinguished panelists. Tom Zuka was the co-editor of the first collection to ever use the term flash fiction, so we can hear a little bit about that in 1992, along with James Thomas who we're thrilled to have in our audience today. Tom is also the co-editor of the new anthology, sudden Flash Youth. Robert Shepherd is the co-editor of the Flash Fiction Forward and Sudden Fiction anthology series from Norton. Also with James Thomas. He has taught flash fiction in introductory upper division and graduate level courses. Leah Rogan Roper is a co-founder and editor of Fast Forward Press, a publishing company dedicated to compressed forms of literature. She teaches at Arapahoe Community College in Littleton, Colorado, and I am Kona Morris, also from Fast Forward Press as well as the Community College of Denver. So Tom Zuka will be starting us off. Go ahead.

Speaker 3 (00:02:07):

Something very important occurs to me. I just walked over from the Palmer House and didn't head to the bathroom or look in a mirror, so I'm wondering what my hair looks like. I mean, is it passable? I really, I don't know, go like this. Should I do like this? I mean, I have no idea. You might be holding back going, I'm trying not to laugh or maybe it just looks windswept and cool. Yeah, I have a quick question for you guys. There are a few things that we want that we'll probably have time to do that we didn't expect to do because this is a w p after all, but I just wanted to, how many of you folks really are interested in this from the perspective of teaching flash friction in a writing and how many of you are more from the lit? Here's some stories and let's look at 'em, or you're doing kind of both in the writing classes, that's probably most of us, right?

Speaker 3 (00:02:58):

Yeah, the two up. That's so okay, we'll try to do both. At first, I didn't think there was a chance we would have time to do this, but since a few folks got that looks good since a few folks got sick or couldn't make it, I'm going to try something later if we have time and I think we will do, see how many people can get involved and try to explain something that I haven't really figured out and maybe together we can do it. So we'll see if we have. It has to do with point of view, but I'm supposed to talk about style and structure, so I'll do that first.

Speaker 3 (00:03:36):

Never go over your allotted time, even when folks don't show up. Okay, I think it was 1989, James and Denise, Thomas and I and a few other folks were trying to put together the first flash fiction book and in the process something happened. I can't speak for James, but I know this happened to me. I thought that in the reading of approximately 5,000 stories to call it down to the 72 that got in the book, that I would figure out certain things about structure in the short short and what we came to call flash fiction and what lots of other people call flash fiction these days. And I didn't, don't think anybody else has either. I'd defy any. I'd love to hear if anybody else has, but I'm not smart enough to do it. And I actually wrote something for, it's an introduction to a chapter in and behind the short story, a textbook, and I figured that if I try to just do this and say it extemporaneously, it won't be as good as this thing that I revise several times.

Speaker 3 (00:04:45):

So I'm going to read this part, but I'll try to read it in an unor fashion, but we all like to read, right? Just consider this little part a mini reading that's not fiction, okay? I didn't find the pattern. So there's a chapter, chapter, a paragraph that leads into what I'm going to read in the paragraph is two words. It says they didn't, the only thing every story had in common was its length, which led me to a conclusion I hadn't foreseen. The shorter the story, the less a writer can rely on or fall into the trap of copying predictable patterns. I hadn't seen this coming at all in flash fiction or micro fiction, the 250 word maximum sub-genre of flash fiction. It's virtually impossible to write a formulaic story, which is pretty cool because there's no set form or a structure for fiction. This brief, even if you tried to write a genre story, a mystery or a romance of let's 500 words, readers would take your story as a form of meta fiction, a comment on the genre rather than a piece of genre fiction itself. And that's what you would be doing trying to create something new, expanding possibilities rather than conforming to the predictable expectations of a genre. Now, if you want to take 10 seconds or so and think about trying to write a detective story in 500 words or even one of the vampire stories, see, maybe you could get rich writing a 750 word vampire love story. I don't think anybody would. Well, anyway, you can give that a shot.

Speaker 3 (00:06:39):

You can give some thought to my idea and let me know in the q and a or whatever. If you think, I don't know what I'm talking about, but this is what I came up with, so I'm not claiming at all that structure doesn't exist. What I'm claiming is that any story of this length must discover its own structure with little help from established models. I mean, you really have nothing to go on, but I've got 500 words or I've got 750 or a thousand or whatever it happens to be, and here's the style part. I'm going to go back and forth a bit now, and style is part of that discovery process. The structure and style are connected with the short, well, with any piece, but this is true of all fiction writing, but the shorter the story, the more heightened the effect and the more demanding the writer's job. A quick question. How many of you have assigned say a 250 word story to students and they think, well, cool, that's short, and then they come back, damn, that's hard. I thought it was going to be simple and probably most of us at one time or another, and the first time I entered the world's best short story competition, that was why at Florida State, that's why I wrote a 251 because I wanted to win a hundred dollars in a case of oranges,

Speaker 3 (00:07:55):

And so I started writing one for that contest every year. I bet I'm not the only one in this room who's done that. And I said, damn, this is hard. The first draft, I would always come in and I don't know, 480 words or something that it's like, okay, how do I crunch this down at two 50 to be able to enter it? Okay, shorter might seem easier, but it's tough to write a satisfying story in so few words. Everybody knows that you need to do a lot in a small space, and that means making each word count the best short stories, display the charge in resonant language of poetry while also managing to tell a story. And this is indeed a challenge, and you all know that as well. Okay? These are well-worn pieces of paper, nice and nice and crinkly. Here's the teaching part that I wanted to talk about briefly.

Speaker 3 (00:08:54):

When it comes down to, I'm trying to think of a way to say this. It isn't a cliche. I almost said brass tacks, but I didn't. When it comes down to the doing, I'll just leave it at that of teaching a short story. You're dealing with structure and you're dealing with style. I think that the students will take more away period, take more away from the discussion of style than they will the discussion of structure. The discussion of structure. I think it's super interesting, but as far as the takeaway, it'll be just for the most part what I know about it, which is what I just said, you have to find your own structure and every, you can't say, okay, guys, remember this. All there is really to remember is everyone's going to be different. There aren't, there aren't formulas that you can use style.

Speaker 3 (00:09:51):

On the other hand, well, that's one of the great things about teaching flash fiction. You get to deal with so many different kinds of style. In one class you can read the entire story or you can say, I've done this a number of times. Sometimes, okay, we're going to read the entire piece because after all, it doesn't take that long. The only reason it takes long is because I keep stopping after every sentence and say, isn't that wonderful? And let's talk about how wonderful it is. And sometimes they agree and sometimes they're like, finish the story. And you probably know that feeling too. And you get all excited about sometimes stop in the middle of a sentence, can you believe that word? What a great word. And they're rolling their eyes and well, you all know that feeling too probably. And any of my students here, then they would know. Also that feeling of me starting to go on a digression and forgetting what I was talking about, I know it had to do with style. So I'll go back there and when you, I wasn't expecting to have this time and this luxury, but you know what I'm going to do? I'm going to read some things. I'm going to read a few pieces. They're real short. I'm not going to read the whole piece and you're going to like it.

Speaker 3 (00:10:59):

So I'm going to, before we move on to style, after I just said that's the way to go, I want to read a story that illustrates a bit of what I mean about structure. I mean, you can just point out to students, Hey, this is doing something different, and feel free to do something different. Feel free to experiment. It's something that I think if you, if I had to put an adjective on the flash fiction genre and I only got one, I mean outside of short, I mean short, forget short. I think I would use playful You play even if it turns into a serious story. It's a playful genre, so you can agree or disagree with that, but I'll put that one out. Okay, here's an unusual structure for a short story piece or a flash fiction piece, and some of you might know it. This is from the You have time for this anthology that I added a few years ago, and it's by Bruce Taylor. Oh, I'm sorry. I'm going to digress for a brief second here. If there are any folks that are in either who have stories and you have time for this or a sudden flash youth, please come up and say hi to me and sign my copies.

Speaker 3 (00:12:20):

It's like a yearbook, but okay. This story is called Exercise. Take a story from real life. One, you were having trouble focusing. Cut the story in half, cut it in half. Again, what you're left with is the essentials of the story. You'll be able to see more clearly. Parenthetically 257 words,

Speaker 4 (00:12:46):


Speaker 3 (00:12:47):

They have said nothing to each other for weeks except what matters to the day. The children, the budget, or the dog. He's upstairs at his office window. She's reading in a Shez Long in the Shade. Some book her recently widowed mother gave her She sigh, he imagines at Howard was an easy mistake for a young girl to make a less likely error. Perhaps for a man so much older who remembers mostly a white dress, a waist, your hands could fit around the scent of juicy fruit and Noma, when he asks what's wrong, she always says she's happy. The only thing is if he were sometimes a little happier, a little more often to what she thinks of him now he doesn't even know, but fears, it's so much less than what she thought at first when he was what he can't imagine now and obviously isn't to her now. And why And why in the grief of his fifties hard liquor sits him down to pray. They treat each other as tenderly, at least as they treat a relative or friend, a needy stranger or the obligatory guest, whatever it is they might be discussing escapes to the underside of the birch leaves in the gathering breeze. The lights across the river are brighter and seem more distant than the stars. The swallows give way to the bats and a tiny spider spins at the ruin. To screen a web, someone less desperate might be tempted to take as a metaphor,

Speaker 3 (00:14:23):

128 words. They had said nothing to each other for weeks except what matters to the day. The children, the budget, or the dog. He's upstairs at his office window. She sigh. He imagines at where love has led her and how it was an easy mistake for a young girl to make. He remembers a white dress, a waist. Your hands could fit around the scent of juicy fruit and Noxzema, he wants to ask her what she remembers. They treat each other as tenderly, at least as they treat a relative or friend, a needy stranger or the obligatory guest, whatever it is they might be discussing escapes to the underside of the birch leaves, the lights across the river are brighter and see more distant than the stars. 63 words. They have said nothing to each other for weeks except what matters to the day. She sigh at where love has led her. He remembers a white dress, they treat each other as they treat a stranger. Whatever they might be discussing escapes to the underside of the birch leaves, the lights across the river are brighter and more distant than the stars. Okay, that story is called exercise.

Speaker 3 (00:15:44):

Which one did you like the best?

Speaker 4 (00:15:47):

The last one, number two.

Speaker 3 (00:15:49):

Next to last. Next to last, the middle one, the penultimate one. Here's where it gets real interesting. When I teach this story, is it fair to the last one the best?

Speaker 4 (00:16:03):

No, I mean

Speaker 3 (00:16:06):

It's super interesting. What's cool? You might want to teach this story sometime, but read the shortest one first

Speaker 3 (00:16:13):

Because I'm in the camp of, Hey, that last one is really cool. It's amazing how much is contained in those. 60 was 63 words, but after all my brain read some backstory. What a minute before. So it is kind of cheating. I know that as well. So anyway, this story, you could talk all class, we could talk the rest of the time on exercise, but we won't. But I love that piece. So if you have any questions about that later on. And then I just wanted to mention a few other structure stories that are interesting. A lot of people know Jamaica kin K's Girl. There's an interesting structure, right? It's just a monologue except with two almost choked little responses from the girl who gets in a few words edgewise against her mother's diatribe, tirade, whatever you want to call it. And the mother of course pays no attention to those few words. So that's a very interesting one. I mean, it's one sentence that goes on for, I don't know, two, three pages. So that's a very cool structure. Oh yeah, right here. Another one that I wanted to mention. How's my time going? I'm getting bad already, sorry.

Speaker 4 (00:17:28):


Speaker 3 (00:17:28):

I'll only mention one of the others then. Alright, I'll mention both. I won't go into them. There's a story called Subtotals in flash fiction that is nothing but a list of stuff. And so it's very interesting to ask yourself, well, is that a story? Obviously we thought so we put it in the book,

Speaker 3 (00:17:46):

But as far as structure goes, just a list. That's the entire story. That's very unusual. I mean Tim O'Brien did in the things they Carried. He has a lot of lists in it, but it's not just lists. This is nothing but a list. And then the last one I wanted to mention, and I am actually going to read it if that's okay, because we all agreed that it's one of our favorite stories. We just love this piece and it's been in a number of books. We put it in Sudden Flash Youth, so that's the most recent place it's been, and it is Hanna Boto Vaco's Currents. And when I read it, you'll see this. I mean the structure is immediately apparent. Well, you'll see Gary drank single malt in the night out on the porch that leaned toward the ocean. His mother distracted had shut off the floodlights and he did not protest against the dark before that his mother Josie, tucked in her two shivering, 12 year old granddaughters. I want you both to go swimming first thing tomorrow. Can't have two seals like you afraid of the water. Before that, one of the girls held the hand of a wordless Filipino boy. His was the first hand she'd ever held. They were watching the paramedics lift the boy's dead brother into an ambulance.

Speaker 3 (00:19:18):

At this time, the other girl heaved over a toilet in the cabana. Before that, the girl who would feel nauseated, watched as the drowned boy's hand slid off the stretcher and bounced along the porch rail. Nobody placed the hand back on the stretcher and it bounced and dragged and bounced. Before that, Gary saw the brown hair sink and resurface as the body bobbed. At first, he mistook it for seaweed. Before that, 35 people struggled out of the water at the coast Guard's command, a lifeguard shouted over jet ski motors about the increasing strength of the riptide before that, before the 35 people, including Gary and the two girls formed a human chain and trolled the waters for the body of a Filipino boy. The boy had gone under 20 minutes earlier and had never come back up. Before that, a lifeguard sprinted up the beach shouting for volunteers. The two girls resting lightly on their sandy body boards stood up to help. Before that, a Filipino boy pulled on the topi lifeguard's ankle and gestured desperately at the waves. My brother, he said before that it was a simple summer day. That's just good stuff. I mean we talk about style, we can talk about structure, we can just do Salas, whatever. That's good stuff.

Speaker 3 (00:21:01):

I guess I'm just going to end my section on a bit of a pep talk. I suppose Leah's going to talk about how to get the administrative folks to want to do it. That's going to be part of her presentation anyway, and I just think flash fiction is the perfect medium for examining fictional style because you can do so many different check out, so many different styles. And as I say, you can do the whole story no problem. Or you can do parts of a number of stories, no problem, and say, look, here are all these different ones and if we have time later on, I'm sure we won't. But I've got some first paragraphs that I'd love to read, but I'm being a time hog now and I'm going to retreat. Thank you.

Speaker 2 (00:21:55):

So next step is Robert, and just briefly before he comes up, I just wanted to mention the handout that's on your chairs and there's some extras on all these empty chairs over here if you didn't get one. But on one side we listed some recommendations, anthologies specific stories, both of the ones that Tom read are on there. And on the other side we listed a list of exercises, prompts that you can use either for yourself as a writer or in the classroom. And one of those is part of the current story is to use that structure to get your students to write a story backwards, which I've done and it's usually very successful. So anyway, here comes Robert.

Speaker 5 (00:22:55):

Hi, I am Robert Sheard.

Speaker 5 (00:23:02):

I'm not going to play for time. I think I'm just going to go ahead with my plan here. I saw there was a panel on novel writing in classes. I'm kind of curious about that. I think flash fiction is, it was always so hard for fiction writers to get in a class on novel writing. You're working with stuff that's in progress and messing with somebody's process and well, I won't go into, there's a lot of reason it made it too cumbersome. So it became the short story for fiction workshops. But the traditional longer ones, 20, 25 pages. Sometimes it's good if you can get two from a student. A lot of times, a lot of courses I've seen, you only get one and you try to fill in a little early, maybe with some best American short stories or something to read a little bit because writers read and how to get that across is difficult to do even in a short story workshop.

Speaker 5 (00:24:07):

Sometimes especially later semester stuff, manuscripts pile up and you're reading, but it's a little bit different kind of reading. Flash fictions is so wonderful for that, that you're, you can write from the very beginning a read as writers do, picking things apart, looking what you really like talking about it. They really get energized with that. I think students, and I've used it in a number of courses, beginning creative writing, a dedicated fiction course. Has anybody taught a dedicated flash fiction course? Oh, okay, I'm really surprised sometimes it's hard to get those. That's something else to talk about. How do you get it past your, to the committees that be and so on. How do you pitch it to get fly fiction? Give it, how do you get 'em to respect it?

Speaker 5 (00:24:59):

But anyway, I've done that also graduate course, so there should be some questions. Alright, but Kona asked me to talk about prompts. So I want to talk about prompts. This may be pretty, since you're all teaching it already, this may be pretty basic, but maybe there'll be some argument about it. So there are a million of them prompts on the web. I'm just going to use two, refer to two print books so that if you want to go back and find some example, it'll be easy. The rose metal press Field Guide of Writing, flash Fiction and VJ Hollers, you must be this Tall to Ride, which is not strictly flash fiction, but there are about 10 of them in there that are short enough to be a flash fiction. So when Kona asked for prompts, I thought of some questions that have troubled me over the years.

Speaker 5 (00:26:00):

One is there really such a thing as a flash prompt? A lot of them could be for longer works, they're really only flash because at the end of the prompt that says, write the story in 500 words or less or whatever. Two, why do so many flash prompts seem to be for traditional stories, at least maybe those ones that I noticed, but isn't flash a kind of non-traditional form. And three, what kind of prompt should I use for my class? All prompts have two parts or they should have the idea and the development, but a lot I see are all development, others are all idea. So let me answer this question first or try to sort it out to me ideas. The ideas are either impromptu, which I guess makes them part of an impromptu prompt or hatched by impromptu, I mean the teacher gives the student an idea and they have to write on it.

Speaker 5 (00:27:09):

Or if the students have to come up with their own idea, it'll take 'em less than a minute to do that. The advantage of a impromptu prompt is they can be done in class with no prep. That's a boon for desperate teachers. They ize ingenuity and often demonstrates the spontaneous depth and power that can be drawn from language with a lot of impromptu prompts. There's almost no distance between idea and development. So here's some examples. Vanessa GE gives the class a line from a poem and they have 15 minutes to write a flash. So that's almost our idea. The development is basically just write like crazy.

Speaker 5 (00:27:58):

Bruce Holland, Rogers, maybe you've heard less of fixed forms like word loops where the last word of each sentence is the first word of the next. That one's all development for the idea. The student has to think of an opening line. I think he probably gives 'em 30 seconds maybe. I think Pamela Painter, a lot of people will know her. She has that alternating voice exercise. It's like a perpetual prompt machine. You think of two people, maybe a husband and wife, they're having a minor argument over something like lost keys and often that kind of turns into something more. So he says, just put the keys in the same place every time. And she says it's not that easy. He says, what retrace your steps. What good is that if? Well, you get the idea it's going to one line prompts the next line of dialogue.

Speaker 5 (00:28:59):

That could be true for a lot of fiction and novels. And the mother of all impromptu prompters may have been Chekhov who claimed you could give him anything like an ashtray and he could use it to come up with a story by the next day. Some web prompts are like that, and I'm on the web all the time. I'm not knocking it, but I don't know. I don't feel good about telling a class, write a story about a shoe. I always want to add something like write a story about a shoe on fire. At least it's got conflict.

Speaker 5 (00:29:34):

But then I always imagine a student in the back muttering, what the fuck? So I prefer hatched ideas because they come from the students themselves hatched as in birds or fish, they're hatched to or iridescent insects or plots or flashy. They all take a little while. The first step is gathering these weird little eggs wherever you find them, which are stray thoughts, memories, bits of conversation or movies or dreams or tabloids or song lyrics. Keeping a journal trains you to be alert for them. Otherwise, as Don Marl has said, most inspiration vanishes before it's recognized.

Speaker 5 (00:30:24):

I asked Don, how do you know that if it's already vanished? And he couldn't. I would never thought, I don't know. Anyway, not every bit of course is an inspiration, but think about it. This is what some people come to college for to find their own ideas and to make something stories if not sense of their lives. So the second step in hatching is to brood on these weird little eggs. Brooding is not done in class. Students should go away and now and then ruminate on their bits, but they shouldn't be too eager to interpret them. There's a psychologist, IRA Proov. It says, images are best. Images are used very broadly. Most bits are kind of images.

Speaker 5 (00:31:21):

They're best not thought, but beheld. Kind of like that. Some images fade. Yeah, they're forgettable. Others don't go away. It's one of those that hatches when you tell the class, okay, open your journal, select an image or a scrap of memory. Okay? For hatched prompts, the development parts tend to be less prescriptive, a little bit looser than the impromptu prompts. One of the more common and best ways to my mind to develop hatched ideas is just to pose and answer basic story questions. For example, one of my own flashes hatched from a dream image of a baby born with tattoos. And I asked myself, how could this happen? Who would care what might be at stake? Et cetera. Amy Bender, and you must be the stall to ride has similar questions about a dream-like painting of a woman, a women, I should say mending tigers sewing up their stripes.

Speaker 5 (00:32:29):

And she asked Who would want a job mending tigers? The tigers were split along the stripes. How did that happen and what did it mean? Later she decides, alright, a young woman wants the job amending tigers, but she isn't allowed to have it. Why not? And just question after question and so on. Stewart died back, another very well known name and the short fiction, he takes a shortcut to development with a kind of prefab framework. He says, select a bit of memory, then start with an opening description and shift to a second character and to dialogue. And that's really where you get into, that's what makes it a story. And then just think of a good line for a closing. He usually likes a good dialogue line, but it could be a narrative or something else. There are also ways to shorten the hatching idea.

Speaker 5 (00:33:34):

And a really good one is the Prompt by Jane Anne Phillips. And I was so looking forward to Jane and I wanted to ask her about this prompt, but she writes about it in the field guide very well. She has students bring in a photo from their parents' wedding. She has them write a one page description of it simply. But at first she's been showing them how to write poetic, evocative prose. As you can imagine, Jane Ann Wood, the photos like a memory. It's a rich history that they know and they feel, but they weren't part of it. So that's the space for them to write. For me, identifying prompts as either impromptu or hatched helps me to manage class time reminds me of what I want my students to learn and I use both kinds.

Speaker 5 (00:34:32):

Their favorite over the years is, that's a really simple one, but it really gets them. They just start writing crazy on this. And I ask them to think of a character not like themselves. It could be they could be somebody very different. It could be in gender or age or whatever, doesn't it doesn't matter, but not like themselves. And then I ask some questions about that character and I give them a minute or two to respond. Sometimes this isn't a latter part of class, they're not going to finish everything, but it's got their ideas going. And later weeks later when I say, what was the thing you liked the best? And that was the best one. So it got 'em going. So I asked 'em about that character, do your character want more than anything in the world? And they think about this for a while and they write and I say, I'm sorry, you can't have it.

Speaker 5 (00:35:31):

Why not? And they're kind of crest falling for a second. And then I start writing even more on that and that pretty much got 'em going. But then I usually do add at the last. Your character does get it after all. How So? That's going to take 'em along. Peter Orner has a variation that runs something like this. It's think of something this character would never do or could never do or would it doesn't matter. And then imagine them doing it. But you got to give 'em a little time there to think what they would never do because you don't want to be too fast with saying, okay, imagine them doing it.

Speaker 5 (00:36:18):

Okay, that might be a special subcategory, like character prompts like Robert Olin Butler's classic flash fiction prompt. And this would be one that would be one of those that is this really a flash fiction prompt? But it is. He says, write about two characters who are both yearning for something. They should be in a relationship, romantic or family, social, whatever, and their needs should be in opposition. And then you add to that of background foil, like the World Trade Center going up in flames in the distance. Okay, in closing, I want to answer my opening two questions. One is, is it really a flash prompt if it can be used for longer work? Yes, because most ideas don't have size.

Speaker 5 (00:37:17):

They're like the universe. They start at a point and they can expand. Presumably they can shrink. They're recyclable. James Joyce's novel Ulysses first existed as a short story. Ian McMillan's award-winning novel, proud monster started from a flash fiction. So two, is it okay if a prompt seems traditional, even if the flash is a flash is non-traditional? Yes, because all literary forms share traits, for example, Marilyn Chin has argued very well that all forms whether novel or brief lyric poem have conflict. Kim Chinwe in the fuel guide, she says flash fictions have plots just as longer stories do except, and this will speak to Tom saying there's no form, particular form. She says plots come out in non non-traditional ways. They're presented in some element like voice or point of view or language. And that's the rest of the course getting into those things. Finally, I want to add a mega prompt.

Speaker 5 (00:38:37):

This is actually James, a boil down version. James can deny this if he wants to, but or add to it at some point. The mega prompt, which is James has said is the best and most obvious one. And that's to have your class read flash fiction anthology and get them reading on it right away and they can discover everything there. The non-traditional strategies, the developments, the ideas, all of that all in one place. It's worked really well for me to have classes, read a couple from an anthology and then read manuscripts. Also in the same if you're on a Tuesday Thursday class, you can work in several things like that.

Speaker 5 (00:39:28):

The grad course just had 'em read crazy and write like crazy and they love just that interaction reading as writers and trying it out themselves. And I've had good success working into sophomore lit classes, all kinds of things like that. There's got to be room for a quote before I end from, I guess it was Samuel Beckett about you can fail better writing flash fiction because a couple of pages, you give it a valiant effort, man, did that crash and burn, but I can try another one pretty soon. And they get to do something right away as opposed to the maybe wonderful but agonizing working on techniques all the way up to producing a longer story that maybe takes them weeks, holds them back and away for weeks fly as you get started right away. Okay, thank you. Thank you.

Speaker 2 (00:40:48):

Okay, next step we have Leah Rogan Ruper.

Speaker 6 (00:41:00):

Hi. How's the sound out there? Okay. All right. So I'm coming from a place of negativity and rejection, which I think is a fine place to come from as a writer, but as a professor, not so much. And I say that because I, after much campaigning was allowed to put a flash fiction course on the schedule for this semester at my school. And I do teach at a large community college. I know that's not a traditional place to necessarily have a flash fiction course, but we're one of the few community colleges in the country that actually offers an AA in creative writing. And so I wanted to kind of talk about ultimately failing to get this class to fill and some of my theories about that, but also how I can learn from it and help you learn from it if you're trying to get flash fiction on the agenda at your particular college, how you can work with administration, how you can market it to students and hopefully succeed in that.

Speaker 6 (00:42:00):

So I wanted to go through a few of the ways that I approached it and I think there's some helpful things to think about, some helpful things to learn. And also I want to just talk about the way administration in my school and probably many of your schools as well, views flash fiction and how we can maybe change that perspective of it not just being sort of a light fluffy thing that students shouldn't be focusing on. So in my school, some of the ways that I approached marketing it, so I think it's one of those things where as writers we feel like we shouldn't have to market, we just want to be creative. And what we find is that's not true. Everybody knows that if you want to get your writing out there, you have to be willing to market it. And the same as a professor, I think I feel like I just want to teach.

Speaker 6 (00:42:45):

I don't feel like I should have to be in the business of marketing my courses, but in fact, if you want things to go like a flash fiction class, you have to think about how you're going to market it effectively. And so there's some of the basic strategies that you can think about. One is streamlining courses so that if you want to teach flash fiction class one semester, maybe you teach a creative writing class or something more basic the semester before so that you're able to funnel students effectively into your flash fiction course. There's some of the obvious things like putting up posters, advertising, reaching out to the community of students who you think it will appeal to as well. At my school, I also marketed it to community ed, so I had a lot of people who were really excited about it in our community that weren't traditional students at our school.

Speaker 6 (00:43:32):

And we have a huge community ed program, so that's another way that you can think about reaching out to not just students, but people outside the student population. I also marketed it as a great books course. So we're also one of the few community colleges that has a great books program that a lot of our courses are taught under. And so there's a big network of students that take great books courses and what that means is that 50% or so of your writers have to come from a designated great books list, which is surprisingly easy to do with flash fiction. It's because it actually uses quite a few canonical writers. So that was another strategy that I took was marketing it as a great books course as well. One of the problems that I ran into, and one of the things that I think we've been discussing as a panel and is really interesting to think about is should flash fiction be its own course?

Speaker 6 (00:44:22):

And I'm not convinced that it should. So I'm interested in hearing more discussion around that because it also links to the question is flash fiction, its own genre, which we have diverse opinions about even on this panel. And many people that we've talked to are actually teaching fiction courses as flash fiction essentially. I think Tom maybe touched on that so that we're not really asking students to write 25 page stories. Typically in undergraduate fiction classes at least we're actually asking for things that are around a thousand words or under often. And so maybe flash fiction shouldn't be its own course because so many of us are treating fiction classes at the undergraduate levels as flash fiction in a lot of ways. So I'm interested in that and interested in kind of what's going on there and if it's something that's worth having a bigger conversation about.

Speaker 6 (00:45:12):

So I think those are some of my just simple strategies that you have to market. You have to get your posters and flyers out there, you have to appeal to the student population. I even use social networking tools like Facebook, our school's Facebook pages and our writer's studio Facebook pages and went to events where people were reading and had flyers distributed about the class. And for this particular class, my dean told me 12 students, it's not going without 12 students. And I got nine students signed up for it by the week before classes started, but it was still canceled even with a week to go because the 12 weren't there even though it was awfully close. So I think thinking about how you can get a few extra students, you can also reach out to the students who you do have signed up and see if they have people who would be interested in joining them in the class.

Speaker 6 (00:46:00):

And those sorts of things can be helpful. But I think the bigger issue is how we can change the school's mentality about flash fiction. So I think a lot of deans and administration see flash fiction as a fluffy course and they don't see it as real. And they often, if they're not reading flash fiction themselves, which I don't know about your administrators and deans, but I don't think my administrator is reading flash fiction. So I think considering how to change that mentality about what flash fiction is, it's not just some fluffy like course that we want to teach because we don't feel like reading real short stories we're too lazy to read something long. So I wanted to talk about that a little bit. Let me rearrange here slightly. So I do feel strongly that flash fiction courses are worth fighting for, although maybe it's just under the guise of a fiction class.

Speaker 6 (00:46:52):

And I know that Robert had some interesting perspectives on how you can market it differently as not necessarily a flash fiction course, but a fiction course that has a focus on flash fiction perhaps. But some of the other things that I want to get across are just some of the reasons why it's not just a trend. It's not just fluffy, it's not just something that's not worthwhile. So one thing that deans at my school are connecting things to our school goals and one of our school goals, and probably most of your school has a similar goal that has to do with diversity or social justice or something along those lines, which I think flash fiction lends itself to really nicely. The sudden fiction Latino collection that these guys put together is a whole collection of Latino flash fiction writers, for example. And there's an awful lot of other writers out there that appealed to multicultural perspectives.

Speaker 6 (00:47:49):

Someone mentioned Jamaica Kincaid, and of course there's a huge range of writers who are writing in flash fiction who it's easy to connect in terms of diversity and social justice and things that are buzzwords with administration. So I think that's one thing to think about. I think the other thing also though is that there is actually a really rich history and canon behind flash fiction. So when I talked about connecting it to the Great Books course, it's because it's really easy to say, I'm going to teach Hemmingway, I'm going to teach Faulkner, I'm going to teach Margaret Atwood, I'm going to teach all of these writers who are on our great books list. And it is more than just fluff. And if you look back in history, you can connect flash fiction back a thousand years or more if you're looking at Chaucer and CIO as kind of original flash fiction writers.

Speaker 6 (00:48:42):

And so in fact, I think thinking of it as just this trend that's happening is false. And so even looking at it as what's been called flash fiction, traditionally it's been around for 35 years or more at this stage. So I feel like it's outlasted a lot of literary trends and we'll continue to because it's more than just some flash in the pan kind of thing. Sorry for the bad pun. So I'll kind of wrap things up, but that's what I mostly wanted to focus on are some of the strategies that you can use to move your administration into considering why flash fiction is worthwhile. And I do feel like it's something that if we can work on as a pedagogical team that's out there saying this is something that you should take seriously, it's something that's here to stay. And also working on some of these marketing strategies that will help convince administrators hopefully that it can be seen as more than a trend. And I took in graduate school, I was lucky to take a class that focused on flash fiction and it really changed my perspective of what writing was and what my writing was. And I think we've talked about some of the reasons and I think Kona will talk more about some of the reasons why it's so appealing to students today. And so I do feel like it's a strong thing to continue to fight for. Thank you.

Speaker 2 (00:50:18):

So I will be talking a little bit about the practicality and application of using flash fiction in the classroom. But before I do I to say that a great way to get students to understand the quality of good flash fiction is to start off a class, either whether or not it's a unit of flash fiction in a creative writing class or its own course with an example of how much can happen in such a short amount of space. One of the things that I use in my classes is this story called Ashes by Albert Garcia Ena. It's in the fast forward collection, the incredible shrinking story. And I tell my students, this is 42 words long and watch what can happen. I recall the day that in kindergarten we made a clay ashtray for Father's Day with a toothpick. I wrote the name of mine Vincent, when I handed it to him, he told me he didn't smoke, gave me a condescending pat on my shoulder and tossed it in the trash.

Speaker 2 (00:51:32):

I remember all of this as I throw the cremation box into the first garbage bin I see after leaving the funeral home, I don't smoke either. So I think that's a great example of an entire world that could be fit in 42 words. It's so tiny, you could hardly see it on the page. And when I show my students something like that, I think it really starts to make them see the possibilities. In order for a flash fiction piece to be successful, it's more than just a short amount of space it has to do in a short amount of space. What longer stories do with however many pages they use, it has to stand up against those longer stories and be great literature. That's something I talked about in the introduction to that book that the tools of ambiguity and implication, that's really what we have with flash fiction because we have to make more happen with less words.

Speaker 2 (00:52:35):

We have to use the invisible space of not having a backstory and jumping right into it. Raymond Carver's piece, popular Mechanics is a phenomenal example of that. Starting off, it almost feels like it's the end of a two 300 page novel where you've already learned the story of why these two people fell in love and they had a baby and fell out of love. And here it just starts at this final moment in their relationship where they're just literally tearing each other apart if anybody knows that story. But you should definitely, that's another great story that students just react to. But in addition to how to teach flash fiction that we've been talking about with the prompts and talking about style and the question of whether or not it deserves its own course, I think it's also important to mention the value of using flash fiction in other kinds of classes because I mean, we know that for creative writing classes, the easily accessible length is perfect for studying the elements of story structure as well as developing critiquing and workshopping skills.

Speaker 2 (00:53:49):

But it's also the perfect size for literature reading and even composition classes. It's ideal for portraying descriptive writing, different points of view, tense narration, and dissecting the elements of literature. For the last three years I've been using Leah Rogan roper's story. Elena wants to have a baby to teach rhetoric to composition classes. And this story, it's about a character who gets a secret vasectomy while his young wife is desperately trying to get pregnant even though they previously agreed to not have children. And both of these characters have their own secret justifications for their uncommunicated actions. So what I do is I have my students write a letter. They have to choose one of the characters, either the guy with the secret vasectomy or the woman who never communicates, actually I do want to have children and just stops taking her birth control pills. So I have my students choose one of these characters and they write a letter to the other character.

Speaker 2 (00:54:56):

But what I do is I make them use the modes of persuasion, ethos, pathos, and logos to do this. And it's just a great way to get them to use that in a really practical, real way. And because the story is full of these engaging in realistic characters, everybody immediately jumps on. I mean, they either hate the guy or they understand well, she's breaking the original pact, but they become so passionate about it and it's because it's good writing. It's because they're really engaging colorful characters that they're able to enter the story and dive into these narrative roles and they end up learning rhetoric in a very contextual and highly effective manner. And I use this, I mean even in developmental classes with very high risk populations and it's something that's so easy for them to engage in. So I have a few other things I wanted to say, but what I'd like to do is before I move on from that idea is I'd love to hear from the other panelists ways that they use flash fiction in non-creative writing classes. I mean, how do you use those in literature classes? In composition classes? If you guys had any other ideas to add? We can use the table mics,

Speaker 3 (00:56:20):

Do these work. They do. I hear myself, oh, I use it in lit classes all the time and for the same reasons I was talking about earlier. Boy, you can just here are great sentences and it's a wonderful, I mean, in lit classes I would often do the sophomore survey, so it's a lit classes and you had mostly students who they're taking the two English classes the university makes them take and they would take none if they could get away with that. And I consider it just a massive victory when in the evaluations I get something like he made me think that he made me realize fiction stories are pretty good or something like that. And you've probably gotten those as well, but, and those sorts of students, well, some of them don't read it. Boy, I was naive at the beginning. I thought my students would just read the assignments and it doesn't always work out that way. But when it's a flash fiction, they mostly read it and you can just spend time on a couple of sentences or you can slowly read the entire thing sentence by sentence. And light bulbs do go on and say, boy, this stuff's really, actually this is pretty good. And so I just think it's perfect for that sort of thing. Thank you.

Speaker 6 (00:57:47):

Let's see this one on, I actually use it quite a bit in composition as well, and particularly in developmental or college prep composition for many of the same reasons that Tom's talking about. And I don't want to say that students are lazy and I'm supporting their ability to be lazy by reading things to them in class. But I think that in one of the introductions to one of the flash fiction forward books, maybe they talk about how today's students are able to work through things, see so much in small spaces. So I read a research paper about how students when they look at a webpage can decide whether it's high quality information or not in about five seconds. So just because of looking at the layout and the way information is presented, they're able to make a pretty good judgment about the quality of a website.

Speaker 6 (00:58:40):

And I see that same thing happening with flash fiction, that it's something that we can read as a group in class, but there's so much depth to it that I feel like it lends itself really well. I actually teach one of Kim Chin's stories called The Gym was his Playground in my Composition class pretty regularly. It's very short. I think it's about the length of the one that Kona read. It's under a hundred words and it has a few very descriptive details that anchor the story. And so I use it to teach description so that we really look at the way you probably all, if you've ever taught composition, you've probably gotten those descriptive papers. Don't add up to anything

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