||Unlocking the Novella-in-Flash:
from blank page to finished manuscript
By Michael Loveday
Ad Hoc Fiction (May 2022)
Master Class Series
I just might be the worst person ever to talk about Michael Loveday’s new craft book, Unlocking the Novella-in-Flash, just out from Ad Hoc Fiction. I’ve never published a novella-in-flash, so I’m certainly no expert on the form. On the other hand, for those very same reasons, I might be the best. I am Loveday’s target audience.
I’ve got a pile of flash on my desk, and several rejections, “also-rans,” and “long listing” notices from contests that show me that something’s missing in my attempts at pulling my flashes into a novella. I need what Loveday promises, to regroup and restructure what I’ve already written, into a “high quality manuscript of linked narratives.” Once opened, I realized that Loveday’s book is perfect for me. Less about writing riveting flash—I’ve shown I can do that—the approach and exercises point my way toward turning my flash heap into a novella.
Following a comprehensive and helpful introduction to the Novella-in-Flash in Part One, Loveday embarks on Part Two: twenty-one steps from incubation, through development, and integration of stories into solid links. Each of these steps could form, and I’m sure has formed, an experiential workshop.
Example: In Step 6, “Secrets, Hidden Lives, and Contradictions,” he considers characters’ inner worlds:
If we explore the neglected corners and cellars of our characters’ lives, we can uncover richness and complexity. Contradictory impulses, too, are a powerful fictional engine: there’s an inherent story energy in a character feeling torn about something. (p. 54)
The stuff of literature, in brief. He then goes on to present a full set of suggested directions, exploration tasks, and writing prompts designed to push us toward richer characterization.
One of AdHoc Fiction’s Master Class Series, this book is that. I hoped for expertise poured into practical instruction, and I was not disappointed. The book progressively doubles back to re-examine and expand material unearthed in previous sections to infuse it with newly richened perspective and to allow effective elaboration.
Continuing in Step 6 mentioned above, for instance, several writing prompts encourage re-tracing earlier prompts with deep-dive suggestions such as:
Experiment with dream-logic—maybe there are slips into wild surrealism; paradoxes; symbols standing in for emotions, people, or experiences; leaps of narrative event or location; or maybe people seem to be two-people-at-once, in a way that can happen in dreams. (p. 57)
That is then followed by a specific writing prompt, which itself refers back to an earlier prompt and invites further development.
I taught school for forty years—primary through graduate school. I’m nationally board-certified to teach in all fifty of the United States. I know good teaching, and folks, this is it. Each step gives key insights, summaries, discussions, examples, exploration tasks, and writing prompts to allow you to work and rework a collection along the path toward strengthening your individual flashes and pulling the separate stories into a story that can sing the Hallelujah Chorus.
And it’s not all nuts and bolts. On page 129, Loveday asks a central question, critical to the project of Novella-in-Flash: “Are we a story or are we just moments?” The issue has to do with over-arcing storyline. In his first-person account of his experience in Hitler’s death camps, psychiatrist Victor Frankl made the observation that those who survived were those who had a reason to survive. It is our nature, he claimed, for each of us to seek our own personal story arc to sustain us through darkness. Yet we hold on to arcs like compasses for hope, not like pre-fab marching orders.
Except in publicists’ releases, neither my own life, nor the lives of most of the folks I know, have played out like a Cecile B. DeMille production with background swells and a climactic ending. So long as we wait for Hollywood’s stamp of excellence, we are destined for the cutting room floor. Loveday rightly points out that our lives play out in singular scenes, with only hints and suggestions of a through-line weaving through.
The novella-in-flash represents life through a unique fictional mode that is arguably a more accurate reflection of our existence than the form of a traditional novel. It is neither a consciously structured, flowing narrative line, nor a jumble of entirely incoherent, fleeting fragments—it is an entity in between. Rather like life itself, the novella-in-flash delivers not narrative so much as the suggestion of narrative. (p. 130)
This is the essence of flash. To treat each mundane moment as the sacred event it is.
Part Three concludes with a number of helpful lists of further resources, publishers, elucidation, and even “The Universal Can Opener,” to re-approaching writing prompts that remain resistant to breaking loose fresh writing. I’m finding these tools all helpful, all inspiring.
The task of Novella-in-Flash is to link—in whatever form is best—these glistening moments in such a way that suggests, as gently as may fit, the possibility of arc. It isn’t the job of the author to beat on the door boldly announcing the plot and drive home an endgame—that’s for those who would proselytize, for those who would misrepresent lived experience. It is up to the reader to find their own meaning, and up to the writer to set that stage.
grew up in the lemon groves in Southern California, raised by assorted coyotes and bobcats. A former firefighter with military experience, he served as traumatic stress therapist and crisis consultant—often in the field. A nationally certified teacher, he taught art and writing, served as a gallery director, and still serves on the board of the Sasse Museum of Art, for whom he authored the museum books Fragments: An Archeology of Memory (2017), an attempt to use art and writing to retrieve lost memories of combat, and Dear Vincent: A Psychologist Turned Artist Writes Back to Van Gogh (2020). He holds national board certification as an art teacher for adolescent to young adults.
Recently, Dr. Johnson retired from teaching and clinical work to pursue painting, photography, and writing full time. In that capacity he has written five literary books of artwork and poetry, and one in art history. His shorter work has appeared in Literary Hub, Chiron Review, Shark Reef, Cultural Weekly, and Quarks Ediciones Digitales, and was translated into Chinese by Poetry Hall: A Chinese and English Bi-Lingual Journal. His memoir collection, Chaos & Ash, was released from Pelekinesis in 2020, his Black Box Poetics from Bamboo Dart Press in 2021, The Stardust Mirage from Cholla Needles Press in 2022, and his Fireflies Against Darkness and More Fireflies series from Arroyo Seco Press in 2021 and 2022. He serves as contributing editor for the Journal of Radical Wonder.
Author’s website: www.layeredmeaning.com
⚡ Kendall Johnson’s Black Box Poetics is out today on Bamboo Dart Press, an interview by Dennis Callaci in Shrimper Records blog (10 June 2021)
⚡ Self Portraits: A Review of Kendall Johnson’s Dear Vincent, by Trevor Losh-Johnson in The Ekphrastic Review (6 March 2020)
⚡ On the Ground Fighting a New American Wildfire by Kendall Johnson at Literary Hub (12 August 2020), a selection from his book Chaos & Ash (Pelekinesis, 2020)
⚡ A review of Chaos & Ash by John Brantingham in Tears in the Fence (2 January 2021)