We’re pretty flashy in these here parts, what with our weekly Flash Face Off challenge and our humungous Beginner’s Guide to Flash Fiction course, but we are often asked ‘What the hell is a novella-in-flash?”
So we thought we’d pose the same question to Sophie van Llewyn, whose novella-in-flash Bottled Goods was longlisted for The Women’s Prize for Fiction, and she gave us a whole load of brilliant advice, recommendations, and suggestions on how to craft your very own NiF…
What is a Novella-in-Flash?
A novella-in-flash (also know as a NiF) is a longer work of fiction that consists of a string of flash fictions, linked to form a cohesive story. The flash fictions that form the ‘chapters,’ can range from a few words to maximum 1,000 words (that’s roughly three pages) but what’s really important in the case of a NiF is that the chapters should be able to function as stand-alone stories.
The best part is that you can get super-creative with the form that your flash fictions take. You can try anything, from the ‘classical’ flash fiction, to diary entires, postcards, letters, lists — anything that tells a story and that pushes your story forward. You can swap point of view, from first to third, to even second person.
It’s up to you how you connect the pieces. Some novellas-in-flash focus on the relationships between the characters and map their growth throughout the years (like the Saboteur-Award winning Three Sister of Stone by Stephanie Hutton), others take a more lyrical approach (like Michael Loveday’s Three Men on Edge), while others have a clear narrative arc (which can be straightforward like The Neverlands by Damhnait Monaghan or can coil and magically revolve around itself, slowly revealing the truth like How to Make a Window Snake by Charmaine Wilkerson, both of them also winners of a Sabouteur Award).
Maybe you already have a few flash fictions that ‘speak’ to each other and that might turn into something more. Maybe you have a narrative arc in mind, and you want to translate it into a novella-in-flash. But how?
First of all, you read — this will get your creative juices going and it will help you visualize better the shape your own NiF could take.
A good place to start would be the NiFs I quoted above. Or try Justin Torres’ We the Animals; the Rose Metal Press anthology My Very End of the Universe, containing 4 NiFs along with essays from the authors, or check out the AdHoc Fiction bookshop — they’ve published to date more than a dozen winners and commended NiFs from the Bath Novella-in-Flash Award.
See what appeals to you. You certainly have your pick!
How to Get Started
There’s more than one path to go about a NiF. Since the form is so new, it’s being constantly redefined (so don’t be afraid to try something groundbreaking). But here is one way:
Do you have a flash fiction that ‘speaks’ to you more than any others you’ve written? Do you have a character who has more to say that he or she can say within a single flash? You can start by mapping out this character’s journey.
Think about this character’s story — what happened before the flash starts, what happens afterwards. Write down on index cards the main events in your character’s life.
Think about your supporting characters and the role they play in your character’s life. How do shifts in the dynamics between your main character (MC) and the rest of the characters affect the plot? How do these shifts come about? Write on index cards the main ‘shifts’ in the relationship.
Maybe what happens to your supporting characters affects your (yet) unknowing MC. Do your supporting characters deserve flashes of their own? Jot a few ideas down on index cards.
You can write a flash or more for each index card. Arrange the flashes in the order that makes most sense to you (not necessarily chronologically). Remember that each flash fiction needs to be a stand-alone story.
Re-read. Do you need to write more flashes to explain the relationships between characters, the setting? Think about your character’s emotional arc. Does the character’s growth make sense, or do you need to fill more blanks? You can keep using index cards to help you map your character’s journey.
What about the length?
Well, it depends on who you ask. But since I’m assuming you’d like to see your NiF out into the world as a published book at some point, here’s what some publishers’/competition guidelines say, just to name a few:
- The Bath Novella-in-Flash Award has been running since 2016 and publishes the winners and runners-up as individual books; word count 6,000 – 18,000 words
- National Flash Fiction Day launched their inaugural Novella-in-Flash competition in 2021; word count 6,000 to 12,000 words
- The Reflex Press Novella Award accepts novellas-in-flash; word count 15,000 – 40,000 words
- Fairlight Books accepts novellas-in-flash; word count 25,000-50,000 words
- The works in My Very End of the Universe (Rose Metal Press), an anthology of NiFs, span from 5,000 to 12,000 words
(If you’d like to do more research, the author Michael Loveday has also compiled a comprehensive list of publishers who consider NiFs here.)
My advice would be to write the best story that you can, edit, submit to your critique partners, and then edit some more. When you’re happy with your wonderful, shiny, NiF, it’s time to look at some publishers and see what can be done about the length. As a final tip, most of the publishers who accept flash fiction collections also accept NiFs.
Happy writing and good luck!