Review (Course): How To Write Flash Fiction That Doesn’t Suck, by Holly Lisle

When I started the dictation journey, I didn’t have a game plan other than:

  1. Get a voice recorder.
  2. Dictate in the car.
  3. ????
  4. Get Published!

Several days into the journey, as I realized that this dictation thing could actually work out, I started hunting up the old writing forums I used to haunt. One thing led to another and I rediscovered Holly Lisle’s writing classes, only this time she was advertising a free, 3-week course for writing flash fiction.

Flash fiction is super short (<1000 words) but still a complete story. Short fiction is a different beast from full-length novels and requires a succinctness that I am not known for. I also like to think that I’m not a fan of short fiction (in the same way that I’m not a fan of musicals). There is some irrational stigma in my mind that automatically classifies short fiction as being low quality despite the fact that I know better because I’ve read excellent short fiction by excellent authors. It’s weird and stupid, but it’s there.

I, like you probably have, have read somewhere that writing short fiction is good practice for writing novels. I’ve also read that it’s terrible practice for novels because they are two different skill sets. I think there may be truth to both. I do believe that there is a skill, that I need to work on, that is the same regardless of the medium: Telling a complete and compelling story.

I was intrigued. “Self,” I thought, “Flash fiction might be just the thing to cut your teeth on when learning to dictate! Better, you could get some bite-sized storytelling practice!”

So I signed up.

The Class: 

The class is presented in 3 PDF files, one for each week. You can download the first week immediately but week 2 and 3 won’t show up until 7 and 14 days later. This is to keep you from rushing through the course and missing vital parts of the process. The goal of the course is to produce 5 flash fiction stories by the end of the third week, and you work on them simultaneously. Once you complete the class, you can go over it again and again as many times, and as quickly, as you want, forever.

Side note: Holly Lisle’s writing classes and clinics are lifetime and if you purchased one then you can get the updated versions (if any) for free. I bought several of the clinics back in 2007. I have them as PDFs, but a couple of them were updated in 2012. Even after all of this time I was able to go and download the updated pdfs (there were hurdles, because her site and shop have been updated a couple of times and now she has the classes connected to forums and other things, but I’m assuming that you are new to her stuff and won’t need to jump hurdles). 

The classes were broken down like so (sort of…):

  • Week 1: Find 5 people with a desire and a problem related to that desire. Write 50-150 words about each person and present their problem. This is essentially Act 1.
  • Week 2: Give each story two conflicts—one lesser and one greater—directly related to the desire and problem. Write ~300 words. Here is Act 2.
  • Week 3: 50 words to end the story.

If you blow through week 1 in a day, then you do it again, and again, until 7 days have passed and you have, like, 35 beginnings. But you may take all 7 days, or longer, to get through the 5 and that’s fine too. It’s the same with week 2 and week 3.

Holly gives you instruction on how to find those 5 people, how to find their desires, and how to find their problems. She gives you instruction on how to generate the conflicts, and (probably most importantly) how to end the story in a surprising, yet fitting, way that is neither a cop-out nor a bland series of events run to their logical conclusion. Of course, there are worksheets involved. Most helpfully, Holly follows alongside you in each class, writing two stories of her own so that you can see the course in action. 

The course also has its own section in Holly’s forums, so you can talk to other students who are taking, or have taken, the course. Community is very important for writers (even if a lot of us are fantastically introverted) and it’s a good idea to get connected. 

Verdict: 

I highly recommend the course. First, it’s free. I like free because I don’t have discretionary income laying around to spend willy nilly. But I also understand that you get what you pay for and not to expect much out of free, so that’s why number two is so important. Second, this course is presented by a successful author who has been published repeatedly. It’s a meaty little course, especially considering that it’s free, and there’s nothing to lose by downloading it. At worst, it will be identical to something you already know, at best it’ll teach you mad skillz and turn you into a flash fiction master. Most likely, it’ll be something in between. Personally, I can see how the skills I developed need more development but will also color all future writing.

This is a course where you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. I’ll start posting my own flash fictions that I made using this course, once a month, starting next week. I’ll explain how I applied Holly’s lessons to creating each story, the struggles I encountered, and how I solved them using her tips.

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