If you’re interested in embarking on a novella-in-flash or novel-in-flash, you are in the right place. This online course is designed as an incubator lab in which you can develop and grow a novella-in-flash or novel-in-flash concept.
(But wait! What exactly is a novella-in-flash/novel-in-flash? See here.)
This Novella-in-Flash Incubator course is designed to offer you a more sustained and in-depth level of one-to-one support for writing a novella-in-flash than you will be able to find anywhere else. It aims to provide the most comprehensive insights into all aspects of the novella-in-flash form.
The course gives you an informed space in which to figure out: what to write about, how to develop your characters and story world, how to link disparate material together, and how to shape an overall narrative arc. It also will expand your awareness of available options for the different forms and styles of novella-in-flash you can adopt, and the different narrative strategies you can employ.
And it’s completely flexible. YOU CHOOSE when you write and how quickly you work through the course. So you can fit your writing easily around commitments to your job, caring responsibilities, your yoga classes, cleaning the fridge (once a week, right?), and those late-night Breaking Bad re-runs that you love so much.
A description of how the course works can be found here. What you can expect in terms of outputs and outcomes is listed here. Three different course options are described here.
The following three-part flash fiction – ‘Clean Magic’, by the stellar Francine Witte – offers the reader three different windows into its story-world.
The first part, from the third-person perspective of a jilted male lover, includes a non-realist element that feels like it’s been drawn from the territory of dark fairy tales, or some magical realist novel that’s playfully grotesque or absurd. The physical damage described is so fantastically extreme that it transcends literal meaning – it is signalling that it is meant to be interpreted playfully and symbolically.
The second section, in the first-person voice of a female aggressor mentioned in the first part of the story, enriches part one by revealing, through backstory, that the woman’s violence (as reported by the man) was enacting a kind of “pay-it-forward” retaliation.
And the third and final perspective in the story, arguably the strangest, gives voice to a “magic[al]” rock. It explores some of the thematic material of parts one and two from an unexpected angle, and reaches for wisdom (“it has to pass in its own measured way”) in a way that transcends the limited views of the man and woman in parts one and two.
The three part structure makes the story-world “three-dimensional”, as though this story were a chair that wouldn’t be fully itself if it had only one or two legs. Each perspective feels different in dramatic terms, because each of the characters has their own motives, values, and needs. Each character is given, at the very least, a hint of a backstory. There is variation between first- and third-person voice. Each new part takes an element from the preceding section and develops it. And the first and third sections are notably strange, conjuring an uneasy atmosphere in the midst of the playfulness (even the talking rock, something that might otherwise seem like a device for comedy, is “trapped”, “trick[ed]”, and “gag[ged]”).
Triangles of connected characters are useful to introduce into our writing, perhaps especially for longer stories, novels, or novellas. The push and pull of power dynamics (loyalties, allegiances, rivalries, hierarchies) between three people can be in flux more often than feels possible with only two people. Harold Pinter’s play ‘The Caretaker‘ is a classic example of a writer exploring an unstable triangle – one in which a visitor to someone’s home is never quite sure where they stand, because they have to deal with two brothers whose relationship always seems to be changing.
Invitation: How might you introduce/develop a triangle of characters within your novella? What might be the shifting power dynamics between those three figures, over time?
After reading Francine Witte’s flash fiction, adapt any of the following prompts to fit your novella’s storyline. Write a scene/chapter/story that features:
• Three radically different points of view. (As your focus, find and use a key moment in the action of the overall novella, a decisive event that merits investigation from multiple angles.) Give each character their own differentiated motives, values, and needs in relation to this decisive event. Conjure a backstory for each figure, even if only a small part of their backstory features in the final draft. OPTIONAL: Let the second and third perspectives gradually reveal something new about the limitations of the previous perspective(s), in terms of how they understand the decisive event.
• Write a story including an element of “cartoon violence” drawn from the world of folk/fairy tale, where bizarre, macabre injury, mutilation, blinding, or physical disabling, which would be tragic in all other contexts, is grotesquely commonplace as a deliberately playful or subversive device. (If it feels like this element might not suit your novella’s tone, consider featuring it within a dream or vision, which may helpfully lighten and justify the effect.)
• Write a story featuring a non-violent retaliation that’s paid forward – where someone is passing the parcel of emotional suffering. OPTIONAL: Write it in such a way that the reader sympathises with both the victim and the aggressor.
• Write a story entirely from the point of view of a non-human object – a spirit trapped within an inanimate physical form. OPTIONAL: this object is a witness to some of the human characters in the novella’s story-world, and it offers opinions about them, as well as foregrounding its own priorities.
• If it helps, use the symbolism of the following picture as a way into the material:
I’m thrilled to announce that my craft guide Unlocking the Novella-in-Flash: from Blank Page to Finished Manuscript (Ad Hoc Fiction, 2022) has now received recognition in a second international book competition – this time the Next Generation Indie Book Awards 2023, where it has been awarded a Finalist’s medal. As with the Reader Views Awards, the Next Generation Indie Book Awards are a competition for English-language books published by independent presses, open to publications from anywhere in the world.
Unlocking the Novella-in-Flash forms the foundation of my mentoring programme here at novella-in-flash.com. As well as providing a comprehensive guide to technical aspects of the novella-in-flash form, the practical Workbook section is full of general fiction exercises to help you understand your characters and settings more fully, figure out the key turning points or the structure for your narrative, and much, much more besides. You can read some of the reviews for the book below. I hope you might be tempted to buy the book here! And maybe you will be tempted to sign up for some mentoring support to help you write a novella-in-flash… I now offer a variety of affordable options for support, including a 3-session “Novella-in-Flash Boost”. You can send an enquiry for mentoring through this link.
“I know good teaching, and folks, this is it.” (Kendall Johnson at MacQueen’s Quinterly, read the full review here)
“[T]his brilliant guide… detailed, informative…I have never been so excited to start a workbook!” (Jonathan Cardew at Bending Genres, read the full review here)
“[V]ery much the printed equivalent of taking a focused MA on the topic of the novella.” (Judy Darley at the SkyLightRain blog, read the full review here)
“My copy is plastered in yellow stickies and I will be continually returning and delving into different sections of this craft guide again and again… think of it as a guide to writing good fiction and developing any narrative form.” (Tracy Fells at The Literary Pig blog, read the full reviewhere)
“[J]am-packed full of knowledge…this book finds that sweet spot where most writers would feel empowered…[A]ll-encompassing, motivational and in-depth.. worth its weight in gold…” (Matt Kendrick, read the full review here)
“There is magic in what Loveday says in his craft book.” (John Brantingham at The Journal of Radical Wonder, read the full review here)
“If you’re a fiction writer you should read this book.” (Sharon Pruchnik, read the full Goodreads review here)
“This book is a classic…a five-star resource that will help thousands of writers produce the best possible version of their creative work” (Lily Andrews, 5-star review at Reader Views, read the full review here)
The following flash fiction – ‘Mirror’, by Claire Polders – reads like a one-page novel, so neatly does it pack a lot into a small space. Its complex mix of action and reflection is also written as one sentence – a form that some flash fiction writers refer to as the “single, breathless sentence”.
A remarkable aspect of Polders’s story is the way that the story-world gradually shifts and modulates, even though the core action – the attempted stealing of a shoulder bag – is quite simple. (The simple clarity and boldness of that action, I think, help keep this piece grounded.) New clauses in the developing sentence introduce subtle moral shifts and character nuances as we keep reading. The young, wannabe thief is initially placed within a moral framework as the first-person narrator contrasts the thief with (a) children stealing wallets (b) teenagers picking pockets (c) herself. And then as we find out more about the narrator and her past (line 4 and line 12/13 in desktop view), we start to understand more about her feelings towards the young girl, and why she responds to this attempted theft in the way that she does. Polders makes sure we are on the narrator’s side – this “contender” who is a “gray-haired” woman with a scar “on [her] cheek” – such that we trust her judgement in the final words of the story.
Here’s Claire Polders’s story to enjoy:
After reading Claire Polders’s flash fiction, adapt any of the following prompts to fit your novella’s storyline. Write a scene/chapter/story that features:
• One simple, stark action of misbehaviour or law-breaking (but not attempted theft as depicted in the example story), that is explored through present-tense reflections – either of the person on the receiving end, or of the perpetrator.
• One single, long “breathless sentence” with multiple clauses that explore a main character’s present-day relationship with one other person – perhaps a scene of action, gesture, and/or conversation. Among the multiple clauses, include fleeting references to an incident in the main character’s backstory/past, such that we find out more about their motivations and values in the present-day scene, and what’s at stake for them in this relationship.
• A tense, awkward, confusing or surprising encounter between two strangers in any of the following settings: – café terraces – a church – a canal – a tram
• A scene in which a character experiences unwelcome actions / behaviour from another person. Before the end, the main character realises that they see something of themselves within that other person, such that they feel a conflicted, nuanced mix of emotions – somewhere between tender empathy and harsh judgement.
• A day that begins worryingly badly for a main character. Let the character salvage some light from the events that unfold, such that they feel, by the end, that there are good omens for the day after all.
• If it helps, use the following picture as a way into the material:
The following flash fiction – ‘A Way’, by Sarah Freligh – is a brilliantly written example of a story that is more than one narrative at once.
At the very start, ‘A Way’ seems to focus on two young people, Cindy and the narrator, who are conspiring over stolen wine and gossiping about other schoolkids. Quite soon, as the wine “unlatches the hinge in our tongues”, the story neatly swings on its own hinge into another story: about Cindy’s mother. I won’t offer “plot spoilers” here; read it first to enjoy how the story unfolds from one superbly distinctive detail to another, from donkey suits, to a red-ribbonned Bible, to fruit speared through a plastic sword.
In the final six lines, even though the story is no longer ostensibly about Cindy, her name is mentioned three times. The “story-within-a-story” (about Cindy’s mother) leaves the reader understanding Cindy in a more three-dimensional and emotionally profound way. Through the device of a “story-within-a-story”, Freligh has radically enhanced the reader’s empathy for the teller of that story. And one might argue that there is a further layer – because it’s really the narrator telling a story about Cindy telling a story. So we might infer something, too, about narrator’s friendship with Cindy.
Now imagine how it would be if Cindy and the narrator were the two main characters in a novella-in-flash, and Cindy’s mother a secondary character. We would have learned a good deal more about one of the main characters simply through the author focusing most of a story on a secondary character – because the two people are entangled. The behaviour of the mother carries implications for how we understand the daughter.
Allowing certain chapters of a novella to seemingly focus on a secondary character’s life but still subtly say something about an entangled primary character gives a novella richness and variety. There are even whole novellas-in-flash (such as Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street) that focus on a large and varied ensemble cast primarily in order to reveal something about the central narrator who is witnessing that ensemble cast of secondary characters. The trick is that the reader always knows that the main narrator/protagonist remains our primary ongoing concern. The secondary characters do not take over too much.
In summary, then, it can be useful to consider your novella’s main character(s) as entangledin a network of loyalties and obligations to other characters. In what ways are your main characters put under pressure by the words and deeds/drives and needs of secondary characters – directly or indirectly? In what ways are characters invested in or affected by each other’s moral choices and actions, such that the values of one character impose upon the identity of another, creating friction or internal conflict for them? Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays is a useful example of a novel (written in short chapters, a kind of novel-in-flash in all but name) in which the main character is repeatedly put under extreme pressure by what the characters around her want.
After reading Sarah Freligh’s flash fiction, adapt any of the following prompts to fit your novella’s storyline. Write a scene/chapter/story that features:
• A main character gossiping about another character. Let the gossip about that second character lead us to a deeper understanding of the person doing the gossiping. Crucially, let the main character’s identity be implicated/entangled in what we hear the second character has been doing or saying.
• A main character encounters someone who works as a semi-professional in a given sport (whether golf, as in the story example, or any other sport), for example at local or regional club, but not at national level. Let the moral values of that semi-professional be questionable, in an interesting way.
• A character engages in religious activity (for example joining a congregation, community, or prayer group, or undertaking a religious ritual) for some other more questionable motive. What are the consequences and what are the conflicts (internal/external) involved?
• A character’s tongue is loosened after they drink alcohol or take drugs. What secret do they reveal, or what verbal boundary do they cross?
• If it helps, use the following picture as a way into the material:
I’m pleased to announce that my craft guide Unlocking the Novella-in-Flash: from Blank Page to Finished Manuscript, published in 2022 by Ad Hoc Fiction, has been announced as a Winner in the Reader Views Literary Awards 2023 – gaining the Silver Award for Writing/Publishing. This is an international competition for books published by independent presses, with thousands of entrants each year from all over the globe. In the meantime, reviews have been appearing for the book, and you can read some of them here: Reviews and Endorsements.I hope you will be curious to take a look at the book here! And maybe you will be tempted to sign up for some mentoring support to help you write a novella-in-flash… I now offer a variety of affordable options for support, including a 3-session “Novella-in-Flash Boost”! You can send an enquiry for mentoring through this link.
This month’s writing prompt is inspired by my recent visit to Sheffield, in the North of England but (as it turns out) only a few hours away from me by train. I was visiting Sheffield Hallam University, which is right in the heart of the city, and I was fortunate to have time to take in some nearby landmarks as well – particularly the well known and excellent Millennium Gallery, which hosts the Ruskin collection and three spaces for art exhibitions, and also Sheffield Cathedral and Graves Gallery (which is a gem of an exhibition space hidden away above the city’s Central Library, currently showcasing many drawings and sculptures by Sheffield-born George Fullard, among other artists). All this started me thinking about landmarks and public spaces…
Writing Prompt– Encountering a Local Landmark
• Take your main character(s) to a notable built landmark (somewhere local to the setting of your novella).
– Are there any rituals, traditions, or aspects of culture or history associated with that place? Might some of these inform the action that happens in the story OR what a character notices in the location?
– Are any parts of the landmark notable for being in a state of renovation, development, or repair? Are any elements of the natural world intermingling with the built environment? Is it a meeting point? Or a place for people to find sanctuary? Or is it a place for passing by/through? Are there any striking visual aspects that inspire, uplift, or create a sense of awe/wonder? Or are there any aspects of the landmark that seem strange, off-kilter, or unsettling?
– What is your main character’s relationship to this landmark? How do they feel about it, how often do they encounter it (and in what context/with what motive), and what does it mean to them personally? How does that compare with the experience of other people who encounter this landmark – is the main character’s relationship to it typical or atypical?
– In this flash fiction, be sure to allow something to happen, something that creates a sense of an event unfolding in time – even if it’s only a very small incident, or an action witnessed.
– Let all this material lead the character towards an insight – about the world, their relationships, or themselves.
The following flash fiction – the superb ‘In the Land of Plenty’, by Jayne Martin – tells the story of a series of repeated actions over the course of one day. A woman who sleeps in mounds of garbage, at a landfill site under a motorway, spends her daytime gleaning scraps of food discarded by people in various situations – at a schoolyard, outside an Applebee’s restaurant, behind a Safeway supermarket.
The story consists of a chain of brief moments narrated as individual vignettes, like a montage of scenes from a short film. At the end of the story, the woman returns to her “refuge under the highway”, where, we have been told, she is not the only hungry, homeless person. She must guard her day’s spoils carefully. And then in the very the final section, the view changes to a more dispassionate, material description of landscape itself – “the procession of garbage trucks” and the gulls overhead.
The poignancy achieved through the writer accumulating these understated and succinct mini-narratives into one flash fiction is heartbreaking. Here’s the story:
After reading Jayne Martin’s flash fiction, adapt any of the following prompts to fit your novella’s storyline. Write a scene/chapter/story that involves:
• A person living/sleeping somewhere other than inside a building.
• A chain of repeated actions over the course of one day, with the recurring action each time happening in a slightly different situation. Let the chain of actions add up to something poignant, through the character’s yearning to repeat the action.
• A flash fiction that features someone’s (unique) relationship to food (or consumption of any other goods or commodities). Let the piece evoke something about how we relate to contemporary capitalism or consumerism.
• A scene taking place under a motorway – where the location is a liminal space for something unsettling or unusual unfolding.
• A story in which, at the start, a character leaves a particular location, then returns to that same location again at the end of the story. In between departure and arrival, let the reader learn new things about the character (to do with their feelings, values, motives, life purposes, or life situation) such that we no longer see them as entirely the same person when they return to that location.
• A story where a character is given, out of compassion or solidarity, something by another person that the person would actually have wanted to keep for themselves.
• If it helps, use any of the following pictures as a way into the material:
We’re very grateful at novella-in-flash.com this month to welcome poet and fiction writer Nora Nadjarian as a guest. Nora has this new writing prompt to share with you…
“The prompt is based on my poem ‘Separation’, one of my personal favourites. It was published a number of years ago in the Poetry on the Lake anthology of winning and highly commended poems.
The time came when they longed to return. My father walked circles in the living room, my mother packed and unpacked her hands. We will leave when the rain stops, they said. The rain in this country is so unkind.
The time came when they could no longer return. My father sat in his remote corner of silence, my mother leant into lamplight and threaded sighs. We will leave when the rain stops, she said, hummed intricate tunes, sewed invisible tears.
First, think of a time you were separated from a place you love and/or people you are close to. Free-write about the impact this separation had on you and the people involved.
Then take one character (or more) from your novella and draft a flash about what would happen if they were unable to return to a place of importance to them (this can be a country, a town, a club, a building, even a house).
Think about consequences:
Does the separation have long-term effects?
What happens to the characters during this separation?
Finally, see if you can channel some of the feelings, ideas, and sensations from Step One into Step Two.”
Author Biography – Nora Nadjarian is a poet and writer from Cyprus. She has been commended or placed in numerous competitions, most recently in the Live Canon International Poetry Competition 2020 and the Mslexia Poetry Competition 2021. Her work was included in Being Human (Bloodaxe Books, 2011), Capitals (Bloomsbury, 2017), Europa 28 (Comma Press, 2020) and Poetry International (2022). She was chosen to represent Cyprus in the Hay Festival’s Europa28: Visions for the Future in 2020. Her short fiction has appeared, among others, in Sand Journal, FRiGG, MoonPark Review, Lunate and was placed in the Reflex Fiction flash competition (2021). In 2022 her story “Doors” was selected by Kathy Fish to be included in the Wigleaf Top 50 Short Fictions of the year.
PART ONE: Set aside some time and space to think laterally and imaginatively about your novella. Plan ahead for this, if necessary, by allocating time in your diary.
Focus your attention upon a favourite chapter from your novella (one that you’ve already written).
PART TWO: EITHER:
(a) Imagine a moment/an action/an event taking place some time after the scene in the original flash, and write a new flash using the same character(s) as a foundation.
You might set the new scene in the same location or situation, but allow some time to have elapsed in between (it’s up to you how much), so it feels like this new flash is beginning afresh in a new moment.
(b) Imagine a moment/an action/an event taking place before the original flash. Again, write a scene using the same character(s) as a foundation, maintaining a time gap between the two pieces.
Across the source flash and the newly generated flash, allow the story/situation to move forward. Let one flash develop the ingredients that are in the other. Explore what’s beyond the margins of the source flash.
Depending on whether the new scene is set before or after, consider:
Where must the character(s) have been previously or inevitably go afterwards?
Seeing, doing, and experiencing what?
Be as specific as possible when answering the above questions.
We might say the resulting pair of scenes creates ‘fragmented continuity’.
If you enjoy this tactic, consider using the process again (creating more ‘beforehand’ scenes or more ‘afterwards’ scenes). Do this as many times as feels right for your material.
PART THREE: Cultivate a list of such ‘beforehand/afterwards scenes’ you could develop. Again, explore beyond the margins of the existing material, or follow up any threads (character, setting, plot situation, etc) you glimpse within it.
In the following flash fiction – ‘Natalie’, by Tai Dong Huai – a young character tells the reader about someone she knows, effectively giving a summary character portrait of that other person. This friend, Natalie Bilotto, is, according to one adult, “on the road to disaster” – and she is frequently involved in “misadventures”. Her personality seems to provoke and trigger the narrator, yet also seems to intrigue her and provoke curiosity. Here’s the story:
After reading Huai’s flash fiction, adapt any of the following prompts to fit your novella’s storyline. Write a scene/chapter/story that involves:
• A child or young person who has to play with someone they’re a little bit afraid of. Or an adult who has to spend time with someone they’re a little bit afraid of. What is the (surprising/unexpected) outcome?
• Two characters who are friends but not really friends – “frenemies”, if you will. Explore the power dynamics and tension between them.
• A child or young person witnessing a parent/adult who’s a bird-watcher. (Or vice versa – an adult witnessing a youthful bird-watcher.) Let the bird-watcher’s behaviour seem a little strange…
• Some kind of hideout that’s not particularly effective as a hideout. Why has it been created? What are the consequences of the hideout not being effective?
• A narrative where the main events are triggered by any of the following actions. What happens next? – flushing something unusual down the toilet; – cutting off someone’s pony-tail; – throwing stones at something that deserves to be protected; – maliciously sticking something sharp onto an ordinary household/office/school object; – boy scouts sitting round a campfire and pretending to “roast their weenies”; – taking someone (or something) away in a pickup truck; – a parent (or step-parent, or adoptive parent) sending a child away to get treatment for “adolescent behavioural disorders”;
• Your main character narrating an anecdote (or confiding in the reader) about an unusual person they know – perhaps someone, following Tai Dong Huai’s flash fiction, who is often involved in “misadventures”. Is their behaviour actually all that bad? What might be its underlying motive or cause? What does the relationship between the two people reveal about the main character?
• If it helps, use any of the following pictures as a way into the material: