During my attendance of the annual Captivating Criminality 4 conference, run by Fiona Peters and Joanne Parsons in the stunning grounds of Corsham Court, I was asked to attend a flash fiction workshop run by Hector Duarte, Jr. The workshop was scheduled to start at 6pm and as delegates filtered into the room, engulfed in chatter about the panels they had just previously attended, I took my seat and wondered what was in store.
Now, as an English Literature student, that very rarely delved into the unknown of creating my own fiction, I must admit I was slightly nervous when the word "participatory" flashed up on Hector's first lecture slide; particularly after spending a large proportion of the day in a state of awe at the incredibly well-respected delegates I was having the opportunity to listen to, as well as socialise with. However, as the doors were closed, seats taken and a silence subdued the scholarly chatter, there was a certain openness in the room which I didn’t expect to feel. There was a buzz of creative excitement as delegates retrieved note pads and pens from their bags and Hector, smiling, welcomed everybody to his workshop.
To start Hector introduced us to some theory, some background on what fiction actually is and its functions. He presented us with the common idea that fiction primarily entertains; but, he added, simultaneously it allows a reader to enter an alternative world to the one that they inhabit every day, letting them experience and understand something that they otherwise wouldn’t. Subsequently, Hector went on to propose that Flash fiction literature also meets these framing criteria, however, as expected, it does it in a much quicker way - in a flash (if you will excuse the shocking pun). Hector summarised this in a much more scholarly fashion, through the device of a metaphor in fact, which was as follows:
"A novel is an entire house. A short story is one room. Flash fiction is looking inside the room through a keyhole."
Typically flash fiction is no more than 1000 words long, with a strong plot and tone, a clear sense of place, essential character development and most of all is entertaining but with purpose, opposed to having a sense of randomness. So why is flash fiction such an ever-growing genre Hector asked (rhetorically). His answer being that with the modern world demanding and absorbing information in such a quick fashion, for example through sharp headlines and short online articles, the binge watching of television series and even the cap of being having to express themselves through 250 characters in a Tweet, flash fiction thrives in its ability to facilitate readers with all the fulfilment as full-length fiction but in a smaller and quicker package.
To make this flash fiction adhere to the crime fiction genre Hector presented us with a basic tenet, providing a template he had acquired from Gutter Books acquisition editor, Joe Clifford, who had said:
"I/she/he wanted this; I/she/he did that; this is how it all turned to s**t"
From this Hector argued that in most crime fiction/noir are individuals who are hard-up and driven to do something outside of the law, on the fringes of society. In crime flash fiction happy endings are never ideal. Conclusively, Hector presented that this framework is a good template for anyone wanting to enter the world of writing flash fiction within the crime genre.
With all this information received, noted and readily absorbed by the room, Hector now passed the floor over to the crowd of eager delegates. Abundances of creative stories emerged, many of which resulting in the room being filled with laughter and others eliciting a feeling of anticipation. Stories varied from hyperbolic protagonists dreading going into the office and therefore reeking a vengeful killing against their co-workers to scorned women seeking havoc on the world. Whatever the story the outcome was the same - bloody.
This flash fiction workshop provided a great insight into the thought process behind creating such short crime narratives, providing an extremely comfortable and fun environment in which to explore your own creative abilities. The session even left me, a keen literature reader who hasn’t delved into the creative writing world in years, eager to let my thoughts run wild with crazy ideas for short crime flash fictions of my own. So, in a short (but not bloody) conclusion of the event, this session was a fabulously provided a calm, creative but insightful end to a brilliant first day at the Captivating Crime Conference 2017.
Dr. Fiona Peters is Reader in Crime Fiction at Bath Spa University in the UK. She is a Patricia Highsmith scholar and is director of the Captivating Criminality project.