My flash fiction workshop at Café Fichtl, Vienna
On Saturday 15 November, I led a workshop on flash fiction at my local, Café Fichtl in Floridsdorf, Vienna, where I had already done a reading in German on 29 October.
This time I went Anglo, thanks to a new association of English-language writers, Write Now, recently launched in Vienna. It was a small class with just four students and what a class it was. I’d say the key words were cross-cultural sharing since we were all from different countries (UK, USA, Slovakia, Serbia and Australia), all writing in English.
We worked with postcards & thingymejigs used as prompts for freewriting based on the exercises I grew up with when I started writing at 40 at the workshops of the Geneva Writers’ Group run by Susan Tiberghien. These again had their origins in, among other things, Natalie Goldberg’s seminal Writing Down the Bones. For an idea of the Geneva workshops, pop over to Geneva or see Susan’s book, One Year to a Writing Life, which is her workshops.
Inspired by Tim O’Brien’s short story, “The Things They Carried”, in the story collection of the same name, we explored characters and emptied their pockets and bags. Then we had a look at setting using John Gardner’s famous exercise in The Art of Fiction that I first learnt about online in Alex Keegan’s Boot Camp back in the early 90s. There was a creative buzz going and we needed to step back a bit, so we listened to Robert Olen Butler in an Austrian FM4 radio interview talk about “yearning” and we used that as a way into plot. And since this was a flash fiction workshop, we listened to a couple of his sound bytes from Severance, his collection of 240-word stories, before lunch so that it could all sink in.
We were still in “raw voice” (see Finding Your Writer´s Voice (Frank& Wall)) when we started writing our stories with beginnings, middle and ends, but not necessarily in that order. Then we went into revision mode, but first we all had to listen for hiccups by reading aloud to ourselves, catching superfluous adverbs and adjectives, looking for stronger nouns and verbs, keeping our metaphors to “one single diamond” rather than “a necklace of rhinestones” as Wayson Choy in a workshop at Humber College, Toronto, back in the 90s taught me.
Then we shared our work, learnt to give and take feedback, were made aware that rejections were nothing to be ashamed of, that they were like “purple hearts” and would make us grow as writers.
Of course, one Saturday working like this was like working in a pressure cooker, so the work would be left to lie for a week or so before going back to it with fresh eyes. But in the meantime we had a look at possible markets for our work, not just in print, but online and audio. To finish off, I read a couple of mini-stories from The White Road and Other Stories by Tania Hershman, who for me is the Mistress of Flash Fiction. The pieces chosen were “Heart” and “Plaits”.
We all finished happy and stimulated after a full day of intense writing and sharing, and I am grateful to the participants for trusting the group with their offerings. I’ve said they could email me their finished stories and I’ll give them my reactions and suggestions for possible markets. I hope they do. There was some very exciting material.
I like to say that I’m not a teacher, but a sharer. I well remember the words of the late Timothy Findley when I wanted to thank him for advice he had given me, words to the effect that I could not, but that I should pass on to others what I knew about the things I loved. So what we did was to let the spice flow.
ps. When I posted about the workshop on Twitter, I received a spontaneous message about doing a workshop another place, another time. I said that I’d love to, so maybe next year I’ll be off to the Pyrenees to do some more sharing. We’ll see. Until then, there are stories to write. Onwards!