Fast Fiction: Creating Fiction in Five Minutes by Roberta Allen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Roberta Allen's Fast Fiction focuses, as one might expect from the title, on writing and refining flash fiction or what she and others call the "short short story." But she does include some information about taking these small nuggets and expanding them into longer stories and even writing novels.
The crux of Allen's method is to write for five minutes at a time, using short prompts to guide the freewriting experience. One could use what she calls a directive, such as "Write a story about a broken promise" or "Write a story about a crime," or the writer could use a picture and one of the questions posed for that picture. An example of the latter is a picture of a house with the question, "Who couldn't wait to leave this house?" The idea is to write whatever comes to mind about the topic until the timer is up without straining to worry about what the inner critic says to stymie the creative process.
As I read, I took some of her advice and modified the process to suit my own goals. I found that the experience of drafting such short works (mine were a little longer) was pretty liberating. I often started with something I thought would lead nowhere only to find an interesting (at least to me) story came out. As of this writing, I have not worked through the revision stage as she suggests, but Ms. Allen really wasn't breaking new ground for me.
So to a degree, I think the process can work. And as I reflect on the book, I think with modifications, the general idea could be used for a number of writing needs, some creative, others not so much. But I do have a serious reservation.
Ms. Allen focuses much of the book on feelings and "energy." Her answer to nearly every question about whether something works or doesn't is that it "feels right." She suggests looking for the lines that have the most energy and working from those in revision. While she talks about her own students work-shopping their exercises, she does not really address the fact that writers are not always good judges of their initial work.
In addition, Ms. Allen ignores the discipline it takes to be a writer, whether a novelist or a writer of flash fiction. I am not saying that feelings are not important, but there are far too many writers working out feelings and writing crap and many who say they are writing, but don't get the right feeling, and so produce next to nothing.
All that said, I think Fast Fiction contains some useful ideas, particularly for those writers who need to try something fresh or would be writers who can't seem to get started. But like most books on writing, one should take what can be of use and ignore the rest.
View all my reviews