What is your process for putting together a flash collection? Should stories have a similar voice or theme, or does it not matter?
How do you decide what sequence to put the stories in? How does this influence the reading of the book?
January 10, 2016 at 8:27 PM
Great question, Leonora! I do believe the work should be cohesive and have some theme that runs through it. When putting together a collection, I take flash stories that seem to work best together and then rewrite them until they fit somehow. I love to write the same characters into chaps and once in a novel-in-stories. But, that isn’t necessary. One thread, perhaps relationships: love, family, work….
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January 12, 2016 at 11:55 AM
I agree, Meg, that collections seem to work best when there is a sense of cohesion. I’m very struck by what you said about rewriting stories to make them work better together. I’ve never done this, actually. But I can see how it would strengthen not only the collection but the stories themselves.
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January 11, 2016 at 1:55 AM
I was chatting up possible publishers at AWP for a collection I was working on and one editor asked me what linked my stories. I was befuddled. I thought a second, and then mumbled, “everybody dies?”
It took me over two years to get it together. I rewrote every single story. For some, it was just a touch here and there, a stronger verb, some clarification, that kind of thing, but many of them there was a need to dig deeper, work on themes in the stories, not really thinking about the overall theme of the volume. I knew many people wrote linked stories, I’d done it myself for “The Old Road,” the novella in the collection, but I hadn’t done that. I’d written these stories over years, and I hadn’t thought about linking them.
But there was a reason I called it “Rattle of Want.” I was taking Randall Brown’s online course at the time and he suggested I use the phrase in one of my stories. And I realized how it fit. There was something that held my stories together, my characters yearn. They yearn and strive.
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January 12, 2016 at 11:58 AM
Laughing, Gay, at your answer to that publisher, ha! They all die! This is a great answer to Leonora’s question. I see you also rewrite to create out of a bunch of disparate stories a sense of cohesion to a collection. I love the title “Rattle of Want” and think “yearning and striving” are as universal as you can get.
January 11, 2016 at 12:45 PM
What a great discussion question. I have of a collection of micro that’s a work-in-progress — a hodgepodge of pieces I’ve written over the last four years. Since there is no through-theme, I’ve broken the chapters down by subject. The working title of the book is called “Snacks – A Collection of Bite Size Fiction,” and within are chapters titled Love Bites, Family Bites, Animal Bites, Otherworldly Bites and for the stories that fit none of those categories, Mixed Nuts. I keep adding and subtracting pieces and maybe at some point a cohesive theme will emerge and that will change everything. I’m always open to being surprised.
January 12, 2016 at 11:36 AM
I love those chapter titles, Jayne. I really want to read that collection!
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January 12, 2016 at 11:47 AM
Thank you, Leonora. Every story is under 300 words, hence the “bites.”
January 13, 2016 at 1:07 AM
Me, too! I love those titles! So great, Jayne!
January 13, 2016 at 11:57 AM
Thank you, Meg.
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January 12, 2016 at 12:00 PM
Love your title and the subtitles, Jayne! Fun and immediately compelling for the reader, while also making it clear the collection is of “bite-sized” stories. Very cool!
January 13, 2016 at 11:58 AM
Thank you, Kathy. I hoped to inject a sense of fun for the reader.
January 11, 2016 at 10:20 PM
I actually wrote a whole article on the difference between ordering a flash collection and a flash anthology here:
The answer I think is whether it’s an anthology or whether it’s a single author collection. An anthology is going to have disparate voices, so the goal is to really try and order the pieces to highlight each one–in my article I compare it to taking a classroom photo–don’t put the two green shirts together, put the tall ones in the back, etc. The goal is to smooth it all and try to highlight each individual story. Fast Forward did a book called The Mix Tape where I ordered them all like an old school mixed tape–don’t put the ballads together, think about comedic timing, short vs. long, etc…
A single author collection is a different bird. You can also take the same approach as above, but you don’t have to. I have heard of an author throwing all her stories on the ground, picking them up, and that was the order. In a single author collection, your voice/style is already the balancing through line so you create a narrative arc with all the stories if you want, for example.
In an anthology you are the curator, in a collection you are the artist.
Practically, I like to use the notecards around the house method (I did this with anthologies, too.) Write the title and a few distinguishing features of each story on a separate notecard, then move the notecards around until you hit the right order. I pay attention to subject and length, POV, theme, verb tense, female or male narrator, etc as I’m creating the “big weave” of the order. For Vixen I cleared an entire wall and had all these notecards taped up for months. Every time I walked in the room I might change a few in order to see if I liked it better. I like the tactile-ness of that method…
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January 12, 2016 at 11:39 AM
The “big weave…” I can relate to this from my film days. I used the note card method, too. Different colors for each character’s story line created a physical map of the whole and was tremendously helpful, especially when I got lost. I can see how well this would work for a collection, as well. With “Snacks,” I did “pay attention to subject and length, POV, theme, verb tense, female or male narrator, etc” within each chapter.
I love what you say about “In a single author collection, your voice/style is already the balancing through line.” I hadn’t thought about that.
January 12, 2016 at 12:03 PM
So interesting, Nancy. I hadn’t thought of the challenges of ordering an anthology and the difference between that and ordering a single-author collection. I love your idea of the notecards! That seems a wonderful way to “make sense” of a vast number of disparate stories. Oh, in my answer to this, I also take a tactile approach…
January 12, 2016 at 2:10 PM
Great article, Nancy–thank you for sharing it. I loved the line: “But if an anthology is a little bit like a Greatest Hits Collection, then the single author collection is The Concept Album.”
January 13, 2016 at 12:07 PM
I love that line, too, Leonora.
January 13, 2016 at 12:06 PM
Brilliant article, Nancy. I hadn’t considered that I could tweak the stories so they would work in better harmony together, but you can bet that’s exactly what I’m going to do now. Thank you!
January 12, 2016 at 12:15 PM
I see that Flash Fiction Chronicles is down for the time being, but I also answered this question there (I think?) in a series that Bonnie did on collections.
Unlike some of you, I have never rewritten stories with an eye toward making them all work together better (I think it’s a marvelous idea, I’ve just never done it). And it seems that with all of my collections I was pretty much just pulling together the best stories I had available at the time. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve never had to send collections out to publishers, but have had publishers ask me for collections. I imagine my luck has probably run out in that regard and I’m going to need to actually create and submit my next collection and am grateful to all the wisdom offered in this thread.
What I have done, though, in figuring out the order of my stories–and this is once I’ve deep-sixed the mediocre stories, or the ones too similar to other, slightly better stories to be included–is I print them all out and lay them out on my long dining room table. I need to physically “see” the stories in front of me to make any sense of them as a group.
For RIFT, Robert and I had decided on four subcategories of the idea of “rifts”: Fault, Tremor, Breach, and Cataclysm. The idea of each section building from the one before, the stories becoming more intense in some way. I had different colored post-it notes for each category and just went around and around, pondering the stories, making a quick, gut-level decision and moving on. Ha, I’m not sure how many trips around I had to make, but I knew I wanted an equal number of stories in each section, which served to galvanize my decisions.
I think the best collections really do have that feeling of connectiveness and cohesion. A sense that they belong together.
January 12, 2016 at 2:16 PM
I love what you said about needing to see the stories physically. I feel the same way about my individual pieces; I need to have them in my hands, as a hard copy, in order to catch mistakes and other breaks in rhythm and language. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve missed something on my computer screen, only to catch it on the printed page.
January 13, 2016 at 1:09 AM
Your luck will never run out, Kathy! Because, it’s not luck, but skill and depth in your work!
January 17, 2016 at 4:59 PM
I don’t know if Flash Fiction Chronicles will be back. Every Day Fiction, whose platform I used when I founded FFC, has been deserted by its webmaster leaving Camille Gooderham trying to recreate everything from scratch (he used wordpress but only the basic format and recoded everything. She couldn’t find any one who could suss it all out). She’s managed to keep EDF going, but I see no future for the Chronicle. I won’t be able to return and I know Jim Harrington won’t. I may pull together all my essays and do a mini book with them. Just haven’t had time and haven’t been able to decide if I wanted to make the book larger than that. That’s why I’ve been a little concerned about what I might want to pull from here. But I’m sure it will all shake out okay.
As for collections, I think we just have to do what we think will work best and if someone is interested then yes, we might redo or re-edit. Kathy I may be able to find your bit from FFC if it went through me and not Jim since I rarely delete anything edited on my computer.
January 18, 2016 at 10:37 PM
Oh, Gay! Heartbreaking! LOVED Flash Fiction Chronicles, but it had to have been a serious amount of work, considering it was every day! LOVED IT! Thank you for that! What a gift you and Jim Harrington gave to all of us! xo
January 19, 2016 at 1:29 PM
This is a seriously thorny-assed question! Brilliant article, Nancy! Gay, I adored, “everyone dies.” I want to say that “Rift” (Kathy and Robert Vaughan is a glorious book and your methods of organization worked stunningly. Off the top of my all-time greatest hits list, Meg’s “Domestic Apparition” and Nancy’s “Vixen Scream” are two flash collections that use a common internal theme (or two) but no real arc and seem wonderfully well-ordered to me.
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