Very short stories

Thursday, May 29, 2014
By: 
Angela Meyer interviewed by Patricia Tobin

headshot of Angela Meyer
Angela Meyer

‘Captives’ writer Angela Meyer will be running a course on Flash Fiction at Writers Victoria in July. She spoke to WV communications intern Patricia Tobin about the flash fiction genre.

In your own words, what is flash fiction? What makes a good flash?

The term flash fiction applies to very short stories, under 1000 words. A good flash story will strike a balance between narrative elements (character, setting, conflict – even if only alluded to), and poetic elements (such as rhythm and imagery). It should leave an aftertaste.

In a short story, every word must count. With flash fiction, or very short stories, it would appear that every word must count twice or thrice as much. Do you think that this necessity to be highly economical with words helps or hinders your writing?

I wouldn’t think of it as being economical, it’s more about making the right choices. You may even make sentences longer, or choose beefier words, while rewriting and editing a flash story. You want to choose the words that best evoke the mood or tone you are going for. You have to think about how the story will feel. Like velvet? Like butter? Like not wanting to get out of bed? Like accidentally leaning back against something very cold? Like holding a baby? It’s not just word choice, but the rhythm of the sentences, and a certain aesthetic cohesiveness, that produces the overall effect.

Your collection of flash fiction, 'Captives', has a cover line that reads, “Bad things happen. Or they might. At any moment.” What makes flash fiction the perfect form to produce such dark, disturbing stories?

I’ve been told by a few people now that the overall effect of the collection is quite calming! Cathartic, I suppose. Maybe such short stories allow you to confront one particular fear at a time. Or one particular taboo. But I’d like to think many of them are layered. You can actually pack a lot into few words, make a story like a beautiful painting, where the symbols and figures all work together to produce an effect.

What inspires you to write flash fiction? For example, is it a character or setting?

The stories in Captiveshave been inspired by a range of things: people, settings, images, words, talks or panels, TV shows and movies, real life. Usually there will be an initial element (say, a setting) and I will have to fuse it with another element or two (a character, a mood) before drafting. Sometimes one of the elements doesn’t work and has to be replaced or discarded. Sometimes none of it works. Sometimes it all comes together, and then the story has to be polished. In my Writers Victoria course, I’ll run through this whole process: how to become attuned to ideas, how to make them work as a story, how to edit your piece until it’s the best little story it can be.

Flash fiction has been around for a long time, but as you mentioned previously, there is a fresh interest in flash fiction amongst Australian literary journals like 'Seizure' and 'The Canary Press'. What do you think has caused this recent interest in flash fiction?

It’s probably undeniable that it’s partly because these morsels of fiction can be consumed so quickly and are easy to read on devices. But I’d also like to think that it’s just because it’s a form coming into its own. Very short stories have been around a long time, but if more people are writing flash, the bar is going to be set higher, and readers will see how great the form can be. I think that’s what’s happening. It’s also such a joyful form in which to write. You can almost write the whole story in your head, which is harder to do with a longer short. You can play around. It’s creatively satisfying to get a whole story down on paper in perhaps only fifteen minutes (though, of course, making it shine might take a fair bit longer).

About Angela Meyer

Angela Meyer is a Melbourne-based writer, editor and literary journalist. A chapbook of her flash fiction, 'Captives 'is published by Inkerman & Blunt in 2014, and she is the editor of 'The Great Unknown', a short fiction anthology (Spineless Wonders, 2013). Her fiction, reviews and articles have been published widely. She has been acting editor of Books+Publishing magazine, has blogged for Crikey, and has chaired writers’ festival panels around the world.

About Patricia Tobin

Patricia Tobin is a Writers Victoria communications intern. She tweets at @havesomepatty.