Mini-Class: Flash Fiction - How to Tell Pint Sized Stories | Benjamin Samuel | Skillshare

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Mini-Class: Flash Fiction - How to Tell Pint Sized Stories

teacher avatar Benjamin Samuel, Editor

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

3 Lessons (19m)
    • 1. A Stranger Comes to Town

    • 2. Let's Go on an Adventure

    • 3. Another Stranger Comes to Town

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About This Class

Limitations are liberating. Just ask the Oulipo, a group of literary daredevils that imposed rules on their writing in order to reveal a greater potential for literature. Flash fiction (very, very short stories) is the art of distillation, a form that challenges the writer to create an entire world in a very small space.

Constraining a narrative that feels as expansive as a novel into a mere 1,000 words or less isn't as impossible as it sounds. In fact, when flash fiction is working just right it's a window into a world that even a Proustian verbosity couldn't reveal. Writing flash fiction is a challenge that'll inform all of your writing and remind you just how powerful a few well chosen words can be. And in a day and age of 140 character tweets and 6 second Vines, when everyone seems to be complaining about waning attention spans, flash fiction is a centuries-old tradition that fits right into our modern lifestyles.

This flash course is designed for aspiring writers, novelists, poets, playwrights, and anyone interested in writing with economy.

The class will be broken down into three quick sessions. We'll look at examples of great flash fiction and consider how and why they work, learn some good writing habits, and investigate some outlets where you can read published (or submit your own) flash fiction. There will be three writing exercises, in which you'll economize, condense, and create your own flash fiction stories.

You might not walk away with Hemingway's legendary 6-word story ("For Sale: baby shoes, never worn"), but he didn't actually write that story anyway. What you will leave this class with is an appreciation of the short form, it's place in our lives, and how engaging with restraint can set your creativity free.

Meet Your Teacher

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Benjamin Samuel



I'm the Co-Editor of Electric Literature, an independent digital publisher based out of Brooklyn, and its weekly fiction magazine, Recommended Reading. Electric Literature was the recipient of the National Book Foundation's 2011 Innovations in Reading Prize and has been recognized by Best American Short Stories, the Pen/O'Henry Prize, and Best American Non-Required Reading. I have an MFA from Brooklyn College, and my writing has appeared in McSweeney's Internet Tendency, The Huffington Post, The New York Daily News, Paper Dreams: Writers and Editors on the American Literary Magazine, and elsewhere.

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1. A Stranger Comes to Town: - Welcome to Lesson One of my skill share course on flash fiction In this lesson will be - doing an overview of what flash fiction is and its presence throughout time. - And we'll start to look at a few examples of flash fiction when it's working really well. - What are the rules? - Personally, - as's faras creativity goes, - I'm against rules, - you know. - I find that it's when you're breaking rules that things get interesting. - That's where creativity comes from. - Flash fiction, - though there's only one rule, - and that is, - keep it short. - There's a lot of debate about what flash fiction really is, - you know? - Is it 1000 words? - Is it 500 words? - Is it short enough to fit in a tweet? - Safe to say, - flash fiction is generally a story that is under 1000 words. - And where did flash fiction come from? - How did it all start? - If you ask me, - it probably is prehistoric. - I mean, - you can you can just sort of imagine this, - you know, - Harry Behemoth named Grog, - sitting around this campfire, - telling these stories about this mammoth he's chasing and he just goes on and on and on - with this story. - Then At some point, - someone probably invented the words shut up on brevity evolved. - And then some woman named Bark told a story that actually got to the point. - It was short, - but it it stayed with everyone. - And that's a lot of what flash fiction conduce. - Oh, - you could take an expensive narrative and you can give it to your audience. - And while there while they hear the story while they experience the story while they read - the story, - it goes somewhere where they continue to experience it long after the story's been told. - One way to think about it is, - uh, - firstly, - you know, - he realized that you didn't have to run across the room with your fist extended just to - punch somebody, - you know, - he invented the one inch punch, - which was just all of his force in a very short movement. - Um, - it was devastating, - and it was quick. - But now we're talking about sort of like the history of things and how things came about. - We should talk about parables, - a stops, - fables, - for instance. - Those are flash fiction. - That's those air pieces of flash fiction that everyone understands. - One trick that ace up used was standing characters. - Now he had these sort of tropes. - The tortoise and the hare, - for instance. - It doesn't begin, - you know, - There was this tortoise, - and he grew up in Cleveland to a nice, - hard working family. - But then one day he moved out and started working in you shoe store, - trying to sell used sneakers to any hair who happened to come in. - I mean, - you know, - the Tortoise and Hare. - That's a very quick short story, - and it's it's a lot of, - you know, - time. - A lot of elaboration is saved because he knew the right characters to use, - he said. - Here's a tortoise. - Here's a hair. - We all know what the difference is between those two characters. - We all know what abilities they have. - There was no need for a sock to say the tortoise's slow. - The hair is fast. - He kind of you know, - he uses signals with his readers to kind of develop this relationship that allows readers - to move through the story faster but without losing any relevant information. - It's fine to be clever. - Remember that you're creating art. - You're not trying to tell a great one liner. - So your first reading tip uh, - You know, - there are plenty of books out there. - There are plenty of classes. - You could take entire MF a degrees to try and improve your craft to try and make you a - writer. - Um, - you know, - one of the hardest parts of writing, - no matter how good you are, - no matter how good people say you are, - no matter how good you think you are, - the hardest part of writing is writing. - There's a method which is kind of inelegantly called butt in chair. - Just get there and start working. - Um, - so butt in chair, - get there, - stay there for your reading list will be going over some of the materials that Aaron the - first lesson in your course packet. - Um, - that's a y f by Phil Clay Guerrillas by Ben Laurie Wings Also by Ben Laurie How things have - actually changed since we did secede from the United States by Ron Carlson and broke by Amy - Bender. - There's this saying about writing that there is only two types of stories. - Stranger comes to town and let's go on an adventure and let's go on adventures. - Actually, - just stranger comes to town from the opposite perspective. - Um, - it's cute It's also kind of confounding Lee True. - Um, - you know, - again, - don't subscribe to rules, - but this is a good won t just sort of consider on. - If you look at a lot of stories that are out there, - they will tend to follow either one of those to trajectories. - So for your first reading assignment, - what we're going to do is write. - A stranger comes to town type of story will do. - Let's go on an adventure. - In the next lesson, - you're gonna write your story in under 500 words. - You know, - 590 words is fine. - 580 words is also fine. - The title of your story does not count as part of your word count, - but obviously don't cheat and write a 500 word title. - Andi, - try and double up the length of your story. - You might find that as you write this, - it's easier to not watch the word count. - As those numbers start ticking up, - you just try and keep it brief, - and you might wind up in 1000 word story, - and then you can start trimming the fat down, - Uh, - but do what you can and try and get that stranger to town in 500 words or less 2. Let's Go on an Adventure: - welcome to your second lesson in this part of your skill. - She, - of course. - What? - We're gonna be focusing on his distillation. - How did you get such an expensive idea to fit into such a small space? - Faulkner, - This Pulitzer Prize winning novelist considers himself a failed poet now, - too badly, - very badly. - Paraphrase Faulkner, - which is probably the only way that you could do it. - Every novelist is a failed short story writer, - and every short story writer is a failed poet. - Flash fiction. - It kind of fits right in between short story and home but flash fiction. - You know it isn't a poem with a plot. - And flash fiction also isn't just a short story with a bunch of its words turned out, - it's its own form. - It is a work of art into some type of art. - So in the last lesson, - we talked a little bit about using stock images and troops. - Ben Laurie's story wings. - All we know in the 1st 19 words is there's a man, - there's a woman and they get married and that's not it. - That is, - though, - an entire lifetime right there. - I mean, - the man has existed before. - The woman has existed before. - They have this courtship and they get married, - and now they're living together. - Come work 20 in those opening lines, - there's no epic romance. - There's no room for it, - but it's also it's I hinted. - The words of flat words is very basic and simple. - 24 hour suspicions were then sort of confirmed. - Some time goes by, - you know, - in any relationship you don't want to just feel like time. - It's going by that There has been nothing to say between the time with marriage, - wedding and a year, - two years a month. - I mean, - the fact that he is leaving out those details kind of suggest to the reader that this - relationship is it really so happy by using those flat words by using a certain tone to - reflect what's happening in your story, - you can convey a lot of information. - Another trick that bin Lorries using is the way that he names his characters, - he says the men, - and then later she becomes his life. - There's an Israeli writer, - contemporaries with writer named Alex Epstein on. - He employs similar tactics in his micro fiction. - Um, - we're talking stories that you could write on the back of it. - Postage stamp. - A lot of times, - Alex Epstein will use these sort of stock characters that he knows his reader is familiar - with right about dissidents, - or write a story starring Romeo Juliet. - He does this because he knows that when he drops those names, - you recognize them and you could pick them up and say, - OK, - so Romeo and Juliet, - I know the relationship that's going on here. - I could pick up this story and he's just kind of killing me. - Teoh understand This is the type of story, - these detective characters, - and it doesn't have to be characters that exist before you know, - you might say, - a landscaper or a student or something like that, - where it's it's just a very carefully defined type of person that people will then bring - their own definitions to. - We're talking about distillation here, - and really, - you know, - it's it's about refinement on keeping things close to the story, - keeping the extra things out. - You'll probably do that while you're writing fiction. - You did it in here and your exercise, - but you write a story realized not everything needs to be there. - In fact, - not everyone that's in your story needs to be there. - A lot can also be done with gestures. - There's there's a an old there's an old trope of writing show. - Don't tell which if you're taking a reading workshop, - you'll you'll hear and say to death. - But it's true. - A lot of times with flash fiction, - you're really focusing on a moment you're focusing on the scene or sometimes an idea once, - once you're in your chair, - once your desk, - there are a few ways that can help you stay there. - That can help you. - You motivated. - I read with my dog by my side. - You know, - some people listen to music. - Some people find it distracting. - Other people drink. - There's there's a method of setting a page count horses ready flash fiction. - Just a word Count where you say I'm gonna write X number of pages of your words a day. - If you're reading examples, - I'd like you to look at some work by Alex Epstein. - For my next illusion, - I will use wings and also seven stories for this assignment. - You're going to write Let's go on adventure story. - Only this time it's gonna be 300 words. - Look 3. Another Stranger Comes to Town: - Welcome back to your skill share course. - In this lesson, - we're gonna be talking about alchemy on. - By that I really mean this sort of. - The way the story comes together, - that sort of magic process that transforms words on paper into something in the reader's - mind, - something of substance and of meaning. - It's it's where sort of the art happens. - It's where story happens. - In his introduction to Glenn Way West Cots, - the Pilgrim Hawk accepted in our magazine recommended reading, - Pulitzer Prize winner of Michael Cunningham talks a little bit about that magic process of - alchemy. - Uh, - he dares readers to go ahead, - simulate life using only ink and paper. - Take the same words that are available in the dictionary to anyone who can read and arrange - them so strategically that they simultaneously illuminate and deepen the mystery of human - existence. - Michael was talking about novels, - but that same process applies to poetry. - It applies to plays. - It applies to all art really on, - and it certainly applies to flash fiction. - You know what goes on when you write a story, - and somehow someone has connected with it. - Michael was talking about novelists. - Novelist somehow use ink and paper to create a life, - they essentially create something out of nothing. - Flash fiction writers create something out of even less I'll accepting, - deconstructs an entire life in just a few sentences and then allows the reader to recreate - , - to reassemble that life and to add their own experience to it. - And that's that's sort of where the alchemy really begins. - Its when you as the reader look at those words, - you look at those sentences and you create a life out of them. - When Alex says that there's a man leaving his apartment, - he doesn't tell us that he's a man wearing khakis. - Doesn't waste time telling us what he's wearing, - where he's going. - He just gives you those bare details, - and you fill it in and you fill in the rest. - Um, - you know, - it's It's a great thing to know, - especially when you're writing flash fiction, - that the reader will join you, - that you can give them a scenario and the reader will fill in the blanks. - Once they do that, - when you give them that opportunity, - they also become hooked. - They become a participant because they're creating this vision with you. - We've talked about some little aphorisms of the writing world. - You know, - these show don't tell policies that come up in every workshop. - Um, - here's another one, - E. - M. - Forster is often quoted as saying, - Uh, - the King died and then the queen died is a story. - The king died and the queen died of grief is plot we sympathize with with this situation, - you know, - we become connected and invested in that story very quickly because of our willingness to - experience those feelings with other people. - There's another trope of writing, - which is Kill your darlings with flash fiction. - We are trying to be precise. - We're trying to be very effective with everything. - But there is also another approach. - You know, - you can write the more poetic type of flash fiction, - and in that case, - and don't don't kill your darlings. - Devastate us with your darlings. - In a mi vendors story broke. - There's there's great examples of it. - He met a woman with eyes so black they woke up nocturnal mammals. - I mean, - that's that's a beautiful line, - and that sticks with you. - You don't have the room to wander. - You don't have space for preamble. - Similarly, - with you know where to start. - You want to end early, - so start late and early. - It's It's a little bit like being the interesting person at a party. - You know, - you get there after it started and you leave before things get boring on before you've run - out of things to say for the end of your final lesson, - Here's one more writing tip for you. - Ah, - lot of people treat the brain as a muscle on. - They train it to right. - The more you write, - the stronger that muscle becomes, - the more accustomed it is to being used on. - The best way to do that is to write all the time as faras reading examples. - Then we looked at some specific writers and some specific stories. - Uh, - but I'd like you now to kind of find your own on. - The best way to do that is to look at some publishers and magazines that are producing this - kind of work. - 3 a.m. Vestal smoke, - long electric literature and recommended reading. - We should also look a gigantic magazine. - Nano fiction diagram has some interesting stuff. - Um, - and McSweeney's Internet tendency is also a great resource for their assignment. - We're gonna flip it back to stranger comes to town, - and we're also going to reduce it this time to the size of a tweet. - So you're gonna write your story? - The stranger comes to town story as a tweet. - You're gonna include the hashtag make our mark and then share it onto Twitter with the rest - of the skill share and station to station community together with other station to station - artists. - I'll be judging those tweets for inclusion in a time capsule. - So I'm really looking forward to seeing what you come up with. - Don't forget to share your stories with the community to leave feedback for your other - classmates and collaborate with them and, - you know, - have have fun with this. - You really focus on on creating a piece of flash fiction that resonates that lives beyond - that word. - Count on, - and we'll stay with the reader and with you for a long time.