2018 Flash Fiction Competition

Judge: David Gaffney

A big THANK YOU to everyone who has entered the competition.  The LONGLIST of stories will be published on this website in August 2018 and the Winners announced September.

Image courtesy of Patxa Ibarz Gil

Ask the judge: Q&A with David Gaffney

Our judge, David Gaffney, is a prominent flash fiction author and expert, previously a Bridport Prize judge, perfectly placed to find the very best of our entries.

What do you look for in a flash fiction?

When I am reading a flash fiction piece I look for something that drops me right into a different world full of different people and different ways of thinking and living which I didn’t know about before.

I do not expect to understand it at first. I expect to be a little confused. I hope to be a little confused. I will expect to have to read it again, and maybe again after that. And the feeling I want to have after finishing it is a feeling that I have understood something I didn’t understand before but I still don’t really know what it is.

“I hope to be a little confused. I will expect to have to read it again, and maybe again after that.”

Look at the condensed elliptical nature of powerful song lyrics – such as ‘Wichita Lineman’ and more recently I was listening to a lyric by an artist called Cass McCombs, a song called ‘I’m A Shoe’. These songs tell you everything about what the characters are feeling and nothing about what they are feeling. Flash fiction is probably the opposite of a good newspaper article. Think of it that way and also think of the title that way – a title should be the type of title that a sub editor would use to grab attention. If a title tells you everything about the story, then it’s probably the wrong title.

Is there anything people should avoid?

I would avoid too much exposition in the first line, avoid starting with dialogue possibly. And avoid a punch line or ‘pull back to reveal’ ending. I would avoid too many characters and probably avoid too many complicated flashbacks and flash-forwards.

In content terms I would avoid the following themes:

  • Stories about people swallowing live fish and choking;
  • Stories about a man forcing his wife to smile all the time while she is walking down the street on her own in case a work colleague drives past and sees her and concludes he isn’t making her happy;
  • Stories about a man who has one fingernail polished at lunchtime as part of a promotional campaign;
  • Stories about a man putting slices of raw swede through another man’s letterbox;
  • Stories about a woman who invents a special type of soup which has different emotional effects on the consumer.

Have you any other advice for people?

You probably have a premise you want to start with. I would start by explaining the premise, build a story around that and then take the premise away. Here’s another trick; design a joke around a particular punchline then write the set up for the joke as a short story but don’t include the punchline.

Make yours a winning Flash Fiction