Recently, I’ve noticed a growing number of calls for flash fiction novellas from publishers and competitions.
These calls have me reconsidering every single story I have ever written, had published or rejected, or am still drafting, in a new light. There is a way to combine them, to make use of all the bits and pieces I have, and create something that surpasses each individual flash story.
This is where I imagine a kitchen, and throwing everything I have written into a pot to make a flash fiction novella. But there are steps to follow to see this project become a tasty treat instead of a congealed, stodgy mess.
Thus, here’s my recipe for a flash fiction novella.
Firstly, prepare the main, raw ingredient: flash fiction. Write some. Write more than you expect to for flash fiction. Lightly edit, revise, review. Walk away. Rummage through files of flash fiction stories previously published and ancient drafts never submitted. Even if it’s old and stale, refresh it, and add to the recipe. Then, let this mixture rest.
Come back. Examine the mixture, and take a selection of your flash fiction stories. Reformat them as you add them to a single document mixing bowl, with each story then spooned carefully onto a new page.
Ensure these assembled stories are each under 1,000 words and remain so.
Select a title. Find a plot, setting, or character from one of the stories that is especially intriguing. Is there a voice, perspective, location, or recurring event that speaks to multiple pieces? Make whatever tasty morsel you find the title.
Have you got a title yet?
If not, search for an overriding theme.
Stir and stir to rearrange your stories, in order to discover that special something that adds zest to your entire novella. If you can’t find something, look harder. Write more, edit each story. Spice up your characters. Change perspective. Why? Because this novella needs a theme to help connect disparate stories. Within a flash novella, each story needs to be linked somehow to the others. They don’t need to be chapters in the same narrative, but some spice, some scent, something sweet or sour or bitter, needs to connect the flash pieces beyond the fact they are authored by the same person.
You could also artificially insert a theme or connection after the fact. Take a longer piece of writing, or write something new, then break it up and intersperse it between the stories in the novella, like cheese over a pizza. These sections become nodes to connect your story, or you can think of them as a warm crust to hold together the whole story pie. If this doesn’t work, change the order of the stories again. Carefully alter aspects of every character, or make the setting of every flash fiction story the same, or brush each story lightly with a Shakespearean quote.
Surely there’s a theme now? Surely there is something you, as the author, are preoccupied with? It can be as broad as ‘change’ or as specific as ‘13 different views of one thunderstorm.’
Surely you have a title now? I suspect you’re thinking ‘Thirteen Variations of a Storm.’
Write a sentence or two about the novella. Think of it this summary as a spoonful of the raw mixture to entice readers to take up the cooked dish. Describe the novella’s themes. Write something suggestive of the locations and characters as well as their problems or experiences, as succinctly as possible.
Something like: ‘Thirteen Variations of a Storm’ examines how a small number inhabitants in a town withstand violent weather that accompanies the arrival of a traveling carnival. Can 13 town folk cope with everything coming their way?
Rewrite it. Some publishers require this and it is a helpful selling point or blurb.
Do you need to change the novella’s title? Yeah, it’s now ‘Carnival Storm Variations.’
Change it. Or not.
Edit. Check word limits. Read your draft for spelling, grammar, and flow, and add as necessary. Does each story enhance the whole? Does the sum total hang together as a flash novella, like ingredients become a cake? Have you reviewed the guidelines for potential publishers or competitions?
Insert page numbers and the novella title in a footer—add these before the table of contents.
Set up the table of contents. If you’re including previously published flash fiction, ensure you have the right to do so, and credit publications appropriately (perhaps in the table of contents, perhaps somewhere else).
Print, if you can, before you reread and edit. Send your novella to the warm oven of a beta reader if you have one.
Do the dishes. Take a nap. Or visit a friend.
Return, again, to the manuscript.
Examine your decisions. If you are happy and it’s ready, send off your delectable new manuscript suddenly entitled ‘Tempest Carnival Variations.’ Before sending it out, ensure the footer contains the new title.
If you’re not satisfied, and your recipe has resulted in something less than flavorsome, or you’ve overcooked it with too much editing, scrape off the burnt bits and serve again, or else get back to basics and start over, because you’re a writer and in the kitchen of your creativity, it is never too hot to keep going.