There once was a writer whose mind was like an overexcited child, incapable of sitting still, unable to shut up, raised on a diet of candyfloss, Coca-Cola and electricity. To keep the unruly child occupied, the writer churned out an incessant stream of novels, short fiction, blogs, poems, six-word stories and #OneWordHashtags.
At first he was fascinated by his own ability to boil stories down further and further until only the essence remained. Sometimes the distillate was tequila, best downed as a shot, sometimes it was whiskey, to be slowly sipped and savoured, but often his creations were so ethereal that they seemed to evaporate before his eyes.
Because he wanted the world to taste the elixirs from his still, he sometimes submitted miniature stories to a weekly, 150-word, flash-fiction contest, which appealed to him because the winning story gained free access to another contest, in which writers were granted more words (300!) to tell their story, as if the organisers realised that some writers needed an opportunity to mix their distillate back into a long drink.
Imagine the writer’s surprise when he won the weekly contest twice, as if he had accidentally created a fine wine that connoisseurs had singled out during a blind tasting. He was proud of his achievement and elated, but also suspicious at having come up with a winning formula seemingly by chance.
And so he gave himself 600 words to unravel the secret of his own success.
Having test-driven various theories and metaphors, the writer concluded that flash fiction was much like cup-stacking (video below), in which contestants build set patterns as quickly as possible. Flash fiction forces writers to develop motif, setting, character and story at high speed, drawing readers in like moths to flame, before blowing out the candle, leaving them in darkness, wondering what the hell they just saw and wanting to read it again in slow motion.
To test his theory, the writer went in search of other winning flashletes, rudely barging in on a conversation between Sharon Telfer and Emily Devane to flash his metaphor at them. “Some writers do that brilliantly,” Sharon replied, referring to building structure at speed. “But, for me, it's as much about depth and layers. Infinite riches in a little room.” To which Emily replied: “That's what's great about short fiction: it can be anything from impressionistic sweep to microscopic focus.”
Armed with this new insight, the writer revisited the winning stories on Ad Hoc Fiction’s website. The experience was much like strolling at speed through an art gallery, where the paintings all have similar dimensions and frames. Occasionally, some aspect of the work caught his eye, prompting him to take a closer look. Sometimes it was the composition, the juxtaposition of words, the colour of the dialogue, an unusual angle or original perspective. His favourite stories were like little windows, offering a glimpse of the writer at work. In some instances, it was almost as if he was watching a master artist painting on a windowpane, allowing the viewer to marvel at the bold strokes and deft touches used to compose the imagery.
As he sat down to draw his conclusions, the writer realised that perhaps there wasn’t a secret to unravel. Perhaps the true achievement lay in being exhibited alongside other artists like Sharon and Emily, who were also honing their craft, attempting to discipline their own unruly child, stacking their own cups, distilling their own elixirs, to be savoured or slammed.
See for yourself. The Ad Hoc Gallery is open 24 hours a day.