Did I mention I was one of the editors for FlashFloodJournal – the flash-fiction twenty-four-hour blog project headed by the brilliant Calum Kerr, director of National Flash Fiction Day? Because I was. It was amazing to be part of such a great initiative. If you’re one of the many hundreds of writers who submitted a piece to us, thank you.
Quite a few contributors asked us for feedback on why their pieces hadn’t been accepted. Unfortunately, being frantically busy, we simply couldn’t provide any at the time. Instead, we thought we’d use our blogs to share some thoughts and ideas on how to improve your chances of success next time. Just in case, for example, we decide we’re going to do it all again one day or something. You never know.
Before we start, a few housekeeping points. These are my thoughts; not the FFJ Hivemind’s thoughts, not the thoughts of anyone official, just mine. Because these are my thoughts, it’s more than possible I don’t know what I’m talking about. I was twenty-four years old before I realised that when you look at a flat map of the world, you don’t need to traverse the globe to get from left to right because it all joins on round the back, so to speak. So feel free to ignore every word I say.
Well, I am King
The way it worked was, each editor took charge for one day. For that day, we were the only ones steering the ship. So the first thing to remember is, it was down to the personal opinion of the editor. We’re all different people with different tastes, so what might have one of us leaping off the sofa going “OMGthisisbrilliant!” may leave the next one cold.
Good writing is good writing, and we hope we didn’t miss too many gems. However, there’s always going to be a decent element of a particular piece just being to a particular editor’s particular taste. But then, that’s how our entire industry works, so, yeah.
And At The End They All Must Die
Please note, this is not me saying, “Don’t write sad stories”. Sad stories, written well, are a thing of beauty. A quick look at our blog will show you we were thrilled to accept a large and indulgent helping of very sad stories indeed.
It’s just that this year, for this contest, rather a lot of people decided to write them. Since one thing we were really keen to achieve was variety, I declined some very well-written pieces about loss, death, loneliness, widowhood, divorce etc – just because they were too similar to a piece we’d already got scheduled.
Again, I’m absolutely not saying “Don’t write sad stories”. I’m just observing that this time, all the sad stories had a hell of a lot of competition. Also, if you’re reading a lot of sad stories one after another, you start to get cynical and desensitised. This is probably why medical students like to throw body-parts of each other when they’re off-duty.
But He Was Upside Down With His Skin Missing When I Got Here, Officer
For some reason, quite a lot of authors who submitted on my shift wrote stories about carving up bad people. Again, there’s nothing objectively wrong with this. In fact, frankly, some of you were bloody brilliant at it and will probably take over whenever Elmore Leonard leaves off. Maybe next time there won’t be any schlock at all and I’ll be wishing I’d kept schtum…
Anyway, if you were one of the excellent writers whose gangland executions I had to turn down, I’m sorry. It’s just there’s a limit to how many dead bodies we could accommodate.
The Fish-Slapping Dance
Just in case you don’t know what the fish-slapping-dance is, here’s a link to the YouTube clip. Now that we’re all on the same page, let me explain. In flash fiction, a Fish Slap is when your entire story is just a pleasant interlude leading up to a monumental WTF surprise at the ending. It’s sudden, it comes out of nowhere, and it hits me right around the face and knocks me into the water.
The point I’m making is this. Like the Monty Python sketch I just linked to, the Fish Slap move is not new. In fact, Fish Slaps are probably one of the most common tropes of the flash fiction genre. I don’t like saying they’ve been done to death and I may never want to see another one, but occasionally we all have to do things we don’t like. If you’re genuinely convinced to your very bones that you’ve got a brand new Fish Slap that’s never been done before and everyone will love it, then by all means go for it. Just bear in mind that your editor may well have been Fish Slapped quite enough for one day.
Eats, Shoots And Leaves
When I was at school our English teachers used to trap us inside gigantic tarantula-filled bell-jars when we made minor errors of spelling and punctuation. What can I tell you? It’s grim up North. As a result, I have near-crippling phobias of both spiders, and people who can’t spell or punctuate. You are now free to go through my entire canon of work with a fine-tooth comb and point out the many, many times I have undoubtedly screwed up on this. Then I will have to go and lock myself in the bell-jar and make nice with the hairy-legged arachnids.
Seriously, though. We’re all human, and we all make mistakes – but please, please do your best to catch as many of them as you can. Five hundred words is not a lot to proof-read. If I spot more than a couple of errors, they rapidly become the defining feature of your work for me. Sorry about that.
Fifty Shades Of Copyright
Occasionally, some of us like to dabble with fan-fiction. That’s absolutely shiny with me, but we can’t publish work which recognisably features other people’s creative properties. Since we don’t know everything that exists in the world, if your fandom is obscure we may well not recognise character names, locations and so on. However, the people who originally came up with them certainly will.
Gimme gimme gimme
Here are some of the things I’d love to see even more of if we get to do it again:
1. Stories that made me feel something (other than a bit miserable)
Stories that came with their own massive jolt of strong emotion almost always made my final pick. There was one that I actually felt like I needed a shower after reading. It’s still one of my favourites out of the whole blog.
2. Stories that made me laugh
…especially when the humour was dark and / or unexpected. In fact, I may even break my Fish Slap embargo for a truly funny black-comedy end-line.
3. Stories that were idiosyncratic, unexpected or just engagingly nuts
I wasn’t on duty when the Zombie Stripper piece came in, but if I had been, I’d have snapped your hand off, too.
4. Stories that were just…different
During my stint, I often walked away from stories that were well-crafted, well-written and thoughtful, because they just didn’t break any new territory. I did this to make room for other stories – stories that were a bit raw and rough around the edges (and might even have had the odd spelling mistake) but were utterly fresh and distinctive.
In case I haven’t made it clear enough – it was an absolute privilege being a FlashFloodJournal editor for a day. I think we were all pretty bowled over by the superb standard of the work we received (not to say a little bit intimidated when it came time to submit our own stories to the editorial team). Apparently I don’t use this blog enough to promote my own work, so here’s a link to mine.
If you submitted, then thank you – thank you – thank you. You were all amazing. And we all need to say thank you to Calum Kerr, for organising FlashFloodJournal – and indeed, for directing the whole Flash Fiction Day. I can’t wait for the next one.