For those of you who attended my presentation yesterday at Teaching and Learning Leeds, here are the slides: Flash Fiction Not Flash Bang by Louisa Enstone
Before you open it – I need to get a few things off my chest (again)…
The government are controlling our students’ creative voices – this is wrong
DfE legislation has forced creative writing into a technical corner from which it is very hard to escape. I said yesterday that teachers are prisoners of the government legislation and while this metaphor is a tab hyperbolic, the constituent idea is true. When creative writing is most frequently discussed (and marked) in terms of its technical components, then it is easy to see writing as only a technical exercise. It is no surprise that these requirements have resulted in checklists, success criteria, targets and marking rubrics have reduced creative writing pieces to another form of gap-fill. This time each sentence has to have a different technique (a simile, prepositions, gerunds – yawn).
Ok – hold your horses. Writing is a technical exercise. Yes, I agree. But… what the DfE have done is take literary techniques stretching across several centuries (not to mention numerous forms and styles of writing) and funnelled them in what is a very modern form of writing: flash fiction. This is why it doesn’t work.
Flash fiction (a term somewhat unfairly abhorred by academics) is any fiction that does quite make it to short story length. Flash fiction can be anything from 250 words to 7,000. Our students are writing a few pages. They are writing flash fiction. It doesn’t matter how you feel about the term. Call it a very short story. Call it concise narratives.
But don’t mistake it for a novel. It isn’t. It shouldn’t sound or feel like one.
Don’t forget that at GCSE this piece of writing is spontaneous, unplanned (because a 3-minute plan at the beginning of an exam is not a plan) and unedited. While this might mirror ‘real life’ writing scenarios (might), it does not in anyway mirror how writers of fiction (or indeed fact) work.
As part of my presentation I set out the main differences between novels and very short fiction. What we teach explicitly and what we intentionally avoid. I make the case the novels are long enough to absorb great literary flourishes. Short narratives cannot swallow them. The plot and characters become bogged down.
In my session, I also talked a little about developing a strong narrative voice. I didn’t get enough time to talk this through properly.
So here’s a whole new blogpost on developing narrative voice in writing.