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book inc  –  journal  –  Flash Writer, Flash Reader, and Flash Teacher, Too

Flash Writer, Flash Reader, and Flash Teacher, Too

PWN instructor and book inc writer Liz deBeer explores her passion for flash, when she first discovered it, the challenges and benefits of writing in this compact format, and how it has improved her writing skills.

By Liz deBeer

June 13, 2024

The word “flash” has multiple meanings, including moving quickly or a sudden burst of light. In language arts, flash means a short narrative, normally fewer than a 1,000 words, either fiction or creative nonfiction. I was first introduced to flash at an English teachers’ conference where seeking something fresh, I signed up for David Galef’s workshop on flash writing. 

A professor at Montclair University, Galef wrote Brevity: A Flash Fiction Handbook, which I purchased after the class. In his book’s introduction, Galef describes flash as “the catchall term for any minuscule narrative.” Consider this analogy: flash is to a novel as a five-pound Chihuahua is to a two-hundred-pound Great Dane. They have the same basic parts, just different sizes. Flash, like a novel, has plot, setting, character, literary devices, theme, and varied sentence structure. But flash is more compact.

In Galef’s workshop, we wrote our own flash with prompts such as “write a story in the form of an apology letter.” When I returned to my own classroom, my students and I wrote flash entries in our journals. Soon I was writing flash stories and submitting them to the growing number of journals accepting flash fiction and nonfiction. 

Why Do I Write Flash?

Because I cherish the challenge: Writing a flash story versus a novel might seem easier, as it requires fewer words. In some ways, it’s less intimidating to begin something that’s shorter than a thousand words. But it’s like a narrative dare to create a whole story in a condensed space. Something has to happen. Someone has to respond. Something must matter. All written with polished, playful phrasing. The puzzle propels me.

Because I seek self-discipline: Typically, I’m impatient. Flash involves doggedness, which forces me to employ the self-discipline to write a full story, revise, and edit. Cutting words, phrases, sentences. Then cutting more while keeping the story-line intact. Like eating a kale salad, I’ve grown to crave something that’s good for me.

Because I need the practice: I once saw an entire painting on a grain of rice inside a glass pendant, magnified with special oil. How is it possible to draw on a granule of rice? I imagine such artists create larger works prior to moving onto miniscule grain art as they hone their skills. Similarly, writing longer works prepare writers for the wordsmithery necessary for constructing quality flash and vice versa. Like the Chihuahua to Great Dane analogy, different-sized stories have the same basic parts, so writing either practices similar skills. Flash especially sharpens my editing skills, the willingness to cut —even chop—unnecessary words in my young adult (YA)  manuscript.

According to the iconic writing manual The Elements of Style: “Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.” Flash forces me to practice that.

Experimenting and crafting both fiction and nonfiction flash, my wordsmith skills have improved, which is reflected in my other writing. As Galef wrote, writing flash provides “apt advice for any good fiction.”

Because it’s entertaining: When I taught language arts at a public high school, a student droned out a low one-syllable tone during a grammar lesson: “I’m a horn: Boooooooring.”

“What the —?” I asked, annoyed at the interruption. Impertinent, yes, but also hilarious and unforgettable. I regularly remind myself of his admonition. Flash is like telling a joke — keep it moving, play up key details, land the ending. Then stop.

Flash is fast entertainment. While I enjoy reading novels, consuming a full flash story in a few moments is a special type of satisfaction, like a bite-sized cannoli or mini cheesecake versus a whole carton of ice cream or a full chocolate cake. All are delicious, but the former can be consumed in a shorter time. My preferred flash fiction is in online journals: Fictive Dreams, Switch Microfiction, Flash Frog, 10 By 10 Flash, although my tastes shift regularly, often depending upon the issues’ themes, such as about the environment or parenting.

Flash writer, flash reader, and flash teacher too. This summer, I’m teaching a one-day workshop called “Flash Fiction: Writing More with Fewer Words” with Project Write Now. If you’re looking for a more in-depth discussion, I’m also teaching a three-week flash class. Preparing for the workshop, I’ve scrutinized flash narratives and read multiple manuals on flash, gleaning new ideas and techniques as I create the lesson plans. We will read and analyze published flash as well as flash writers’ reflections —then write and share our own flash. 

Guaranteed not to be Boooooooring!

Liz deBeer

Liz deBeer is a language arts teacher living in New Jersey. Her latest flash has appeared or is forthcoming in Sad Girls Diaries, Blue Bird Word, 10 by 10 Flash Fiction, Spillwords, and others. She teaches Flash Fiction at Project Write Now and is working on young adult novels in book inc, Project Write Now's writing collective.

Liz deBeer is a language arts teacher living in New Jersey. Her latest flash has appeared or is forthcoming in Sad Girls Diaries, Blue Bird Word, 10 by 10 Flash Fiction, Spillwords, and others. She teaches Flash Fiction at Project Write Now and is working on young adult novels in book inc, Project Write Now's writing collective.