Novella-in-Flash Writing Prompt #9 – Scene Afterwards/Scene Beforehand

Try the following writing prompt (a version of which first appeared in Unlocking the Novella-in-Flash: from Blank Page to Finished Manuscript (Ad Hoc Fiction, 2022), and then at the National Flash Fiction Day website this summer.)

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).


(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?
  • Who with?
  • 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.

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.

Begin some daydreaming…

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

More about Michael Loveday’s Novella-in-Flash mentoring:

You can sign up to this novella-in-flash writing prompt series here:

Ad Hoc Fiction’s Novella-in-Flash Craft Guide: now available to pre-order!

Forthcoming from Ad Hoc Fiction in May 2022 is Michael Loveday’s novella-in-flash craft guide, Unlocking the Novella-in-Flash: from Blank Page to Finished Manuscript. Now available to pre-order from the Ad Hoc Fiction website. All pre-orders before 17th May save £3.75 on the cover price.

Unlocking the Novella-in-Flash (Ad Hoc Fiction, 2022), by Michael Loveday

Advance praise for Unlocking the Novella-in-Flash: from Blank Page to Finished Manuscript:

“This is it, writers. This is all you need if you’re even thinking of writing a novella-in-flash. Michael Loveday has written the destined-to-become-a-classic bible on the form. Part craft book, part workbook, part collected resources, Unlocking the Novella-in-Flash is packed with insights, inspiration, examples, and prompts to get you started and assist you every step of the way. A gifted teacher, Loveday anticipates the pitfalls and steers you around them. He provides tangible examples to back up his lessons. He makes the often daunting task of starting a book feel not just doable, but fun.” ~Kathy Fish, author of Wild Life: Collected Works

“An extraordinarily useful resource… Highly recommended for all writers, all teachers of creative writing, and anyone interested in new forms of expression.” ~David Gaffney, author of Out of the Dark and Sawn-Off Tales

“A beautifully written and practical guide for novella-in-flash writers. Michael Loveday effortlessly unlocks the secrets of this ever-evolving form of storytelling that is coming of age in our time.” ~Bambo Soyinka, Professor of Story, Bath Spa University

“Michael Loveday is our foremost champion of the cutting-edge literary form of the novella-in-flash, and in this practical, hands-on guide he takes both the new flash fiction writer, and the seasoned pro, through the process of turning discrete moments of inspiration into a cohesive, coherent whole, while never losing sight of the joy of creativity that should underpin all writing. If you’re a poet wanting to try to write something more substantial, or a prose fiction writer looking to branch out, this book will give you the inspiration and encouragement you need to start experimenting.” ~Rishi Dastidar, author of Saffron Jack and editor of The Craft: A Guide to Making Poetry Happen in the 21st Century

Unlocking the Novella-in-Flash is a handbook, guidebook, reference book, map and compass for anyone thinking of embarking upon writing a novella-in-flash – and indeed those who’ve already written and published one… I guarantee that this book will become a staple in the reading diet of every flash fiction writer.” ~Johanna Robinson, author of Homing

“Writers have been waiting for this book and we didn’t know it…  Unlocking the Novella-in-Flash is destined to join the canon of invaluable books on writing.” ~Pamela Painter, author of Fabrications: New and Selected Stories, and co-author of What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers

Available to pre-order now from the Ad Hoc Fiction website. All pre-orders before 17th May save £3.75 on the cover price.

What Novella-in-Flash writers can learn from Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays (1970)

Play it As it Lays by Joan Didion (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1970; London: 4th Estate, 1998), pp.214

Subject Matter – Maria Wyeth is an actor, in her 30s, divorced from film director Carter Lang, and headed into a whirl of prescription drugs, alcohol and anorexia in a 1960s Hollywood of intoxicated, B-list parties and disillusioned romantic liaisons. The novel primarily describes the events that led up to Maria being treated in hospital following a breakdown, from which location she narrates the introductory chapter. It explores how Maria experiences “peril, unspeakable peril, in the everyday.” (p.100). An appealing cocktail of ennui, glamour, tragedy and spiky dialogue, depicting life on the margins of the movie industry. One of the classic novels – Time magazine included it in its list of the top 100 novels of all time.

Structure/Style – Compared to many “classic-form” novellas-in-flash, Play it As it Lays feels particularly novel-like. Over 200 pages, there are 87 chapters, varying in length from half a page to six pages. Some are impressionistic moments; others run in sequence, picking up where the previous one left off. Thus, not all the chapters are fully developed to become self-standing stories, and a narrative momentum builds that makes it feel close to being a continuous novel. Many chapter openings establish a strong sense of “joined-up-ness”, e.g.: “In November the heat broke, and Carter went to New York to cut the picture, and Maria still had the dream.” (p.98) The first chapter, a kind of prologue or introductory piece, runs to eight pages. It is written in the first person, as Maria recovers in hospital in Los Angeles. There follow two brief chapters also in first-person POV (spoken by other characters), and then there are 84 numbered chapters in close third person POV, following the events in Maria’s life leading up to her time in hospital. Even the longer chapters are broken into discrete sections or scenes, and chapter length overall feels deliberately varied– short follows longer, longer follows short etc. Dialogue, often full of conflict or tension, is used frequently throughout. Towards the end of the novel, the linear narration of Maria’s pre-hospital experiences breaks up slightly, as Didion deliciously delays (and prepares us for) a key plot event.

What can novella-in-flash writers learn from this book?

(1) Significant Events – Play it As it Lays is particularly dominated by two major plot events. The first begins to be announced on p.47 – roughly one quarter of the way through. At once, the whole novel’s energy lifts, and something is urgently at stake in the main character’s life. This plot ingredient casts a shadow over the next 100 pages. One could argue that that until p.47, the novel has almost meandered through the main character’s relationships and situation. Suddenly now, it catches fire, and everything changes. The other major plot point is actually referred to in passing in the second chapter, but isn’t shown happening in real-time until the penultimate chapter. Again, it’s a momentous event, and it retrospectively changes how we interpret the whole novel. Everything else – the divorce from her husband Carter, the casual affairs, the descents into drunkenness and self-medication, Maria’s half-hearted Hollywood career, her eventual breakdown and hospitalisation – does matter, but these ingredients almost feel like supporting context for the two major plot points that shape the meaning of the novel.

  • Invitation: Depending, of course, on the kind of novella-in-flash/novel-in-flash you want to write, might you include one or two seismic plot events that irrevocably change the course of your story? And is there enough at stake yet, in your story situation (again, depending on the aims of your novella)?

(2) Cast of Secondary Characters – Didion locates her central character in a web of relationships – there are at least eight significant secondary characters, each with desires that compete with Maria’s, values that conflict, and motives that tug her in different directions. Didion keeps three prominent secondary characters close to the centre, repeatedly returning to their relationship with Maria over time. But at least five other minor characters still have a significant effect upon Maria. Each of them is prodding her, provoking her, telling her how to live or wanting something from her. Dynamic energy arises from this – and it’s a testament to Didion’s skill that, within 200 pages, she conjures Maria’s network distinctly and somehow keeps a grip on all the moving parts.

  • Invitation: Do your secondary characters crave something from your main character(s), and if so – what? Without overloading your novella, would it help to establish some conflicting desires in your story situation, a tangle of motives and values surrounding your main character(s)?

(3) Dysfunctional main character? – Maria Wyeth is a zone of turmoil: a jumble of addiction, anorexia, sleeplessness, and avoidance of responsibility in work and relationships. She goes AWOL while filming, she vomits drunkenly into a friend’s lap, she casually sleeps with people without being fully present to the experience. Didion is a writer unafraid to explore demons and dysfunctionality, and yet she still salvages something positive and admirable in Maria by the close of the book.

  • Invitation: What elements of vulnerability could you explore within your main character(s)? Would it help the story to make them damaged, in some way? Alternatively, if your characters do feel like a wreckage, what positive qualities can you salvage?

Flexible Novella-in-Flash self-study course:

Novella-in-Flash Mentoring 2023…

Writing a Novella-in-Flash/Novel-in-Flash

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.)

The full course consists of three main Phases (Incubation, Development, and Integration), with one-to-one support from tutor and novella-in-flash specialist Michael Loveday, author of the writing craft guide Unlocking the Novella-in-Flash: from Blank Page to Finished Manuscript (Ad Hoc Fiction, 2022). More about Michael’s teaching and editing experience 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 course is open for bookings. Please get in touch here: Apply for the Course.

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton