A Genre Safari
When the question is asked as to what makes great writing, there is a tendency to focus on literary fiction and to fail to acknowledge the existence of other genres. It is literary fiction (according to such conventional wisdom) which is the fine art of the writing world. Other genres might be likened to cartoons, pop art, water colour painting etc. However, in my opinion, genre writing is just as ripe for brilliance as its more straight-laced literary cousin. Looking at Booker Prize winners of recent times, for example, 'Lincoln in the Bardo' has a speculative edge, 'Wolf Hall' is historical and 'The Luminaries' is a detective novel at heart. And so it stands to reason that amongst short form works there are also plenty of gems written in the different genres. Below, I'm showcasing six examples which have caught my eye over the last few months.
Travelling back to 1895, this first story by Anita Goveas is a time capsule crafted from words and sentences. One of the difficulties of writing historical flash is to create a sense of time and place in such a short amount of words. But this piece transports us back in time in a completely effortless manner, not just to one moment but to all the important moments that make up Frau Roentgen's life, past, present and future. There are layers here that deserve a second, third, fourth reading; a beautiful, enchanting rhythm; and an emotional core that resonates in the reader's mind long after you've read the final sentence:
This story has been selected for Best Microfiction 2019 and Anita has written many other similarly outstanding pieces of flash. She tweets @coffeeandpaneer
Next up, let's move onto speculative fiction. Constrained by a limited word count, this shares many of the same difficulties as creating good historical fiction - especially in painting the background of an unfamiliar world in a manner that it becomes real whilst keeping the focus firmly on character and plot. Blake Johnson circumnavigates this in a way by setting his story in a contemporary setting. He then skilfully weaves in an unsettling sense of strangeness where his protagonist 'the driver' steps fully formed into the reader's mind:
To find out more about Blake, visit his website. He tweets @bjohnsonauthor
I have to admit that science fiction isn't something that I normally go in for (I'll probably lose half my readers by revealing that I'm not a fan of either Star Wars or Star Trek!) since I find that it is often too far-fetched for my tastes. However, when it is grounded in reality or used as a mirror to reflect the 'real' world then I can definitely get on board. Reading Sunyi Dean's story "-Good", I was reminded of Kazuo Ishiguro's "Never Let Me Go". It has a similarly sinister undertone and the way she uses language is brilliantly creative. I love 'a doctor dressed in immaculate professionalism' in the second paragraph and later 'They look at me but my voice has fled.' There is also an emotional, moral core that elevates the story. And pay attention to the cleverness of the title - you'll need it to unpack the ending:
Sunyi has her own writing website and is on Twitter @Blind_Nycteris
In a similar vein, I'm not someone that chooses to read horror fiction. But I have to admit that done well, it is an art form. The level of tension needs to be ratcheted up in just the right way. The threat needs to be in the corner of your eye rather than in full focus. And the characters' fear needs to feel realistic. J.L. Corbett manages all of this in her story "The Harbinger". I like how everything spirals outwards from an "itch deep in the fissures of [the narrator's] brain". I like how she grounds her story in a very relatable narrative tone as it builds through a crescendo towards its climax:
J.L. is the editor of Idle Ink magazine. You can find her on Twitter @JL_Corbett
Detective fiction shares the same need for tension as horror fiction. In a piece of flash it would be nigh on impossible to build up a convincing whodunnit mystery but that doesn't mean that there aren't great examples of shorter works written in the genre. I've picked a piece by Scott Onak that works on different levels. It verges between being a love letter to the genre in one moment and a parody of it in the next. It perceptively picks out the tropes of the detective genre whilst also posing its own mystery. The writing is crisp and sharp and like all good pieces of flash, it makes the reader think:
To finish this safari through the genres, I thought I'd leave you on a laugh. Satire is often placed in a different ballpark altogether but I think there is so much that all writers can learn from those that 'do funny'. There is a need for precise, concise language and there is often a relevant point buried beneath the jokes. In "Christmas Gifts", Graham Techler demonstrates the art of the satirical list. He holds a mirror to the writing community and pokes fun at himself. There is a sense of pathos in his writing and it is razor-sharp throughout:
Graham writes and performs in New York. His website and twitter (@gr8h8m_t3chl3r) are full of self-effacing wit.
And that's a wrap for another month. Evidently, I've not had space to include every genre under the sun but hopefully it's got you reading stories that are perhaps a little out of your comfort zone. Next month, my theme is 'What We Feel Inside' and I'll be plumbing the depths of human emotions in all their forms.
If you've enjoyed the above six wonderful pieces by Anita, J.L., Sunyi, Blake, Graham and Scott please leave a comment below to show your appreciation.