In September we were pleased to welcome Jeff Phelps as our guest facilitator, to run a session on Flash Fiction on the theme of ‘Identity.’ The aim was to give our members and guests a varied interpretation of the theme – which is central to our anthology project – and ensure that poetry and prose writers were catered to alike.
Jeff first challenged us to categorise our identity. What kind of things makes up someone’s identity? Between us we came up with:
Race, Class, Ethnicity, Nationality, Gender, Culture, Education, Physical Presence, Family, Religion and Abilities, and agreed there were many more things which makes up someone’s identity.
Dictionary definitions suggest identity is ‘the distinguishing character or personality of an individual’, or ‘the condition of being a specified person’.
Of course, writing fiction using something as personal as our identity is difficult. To link our identity to writing flash fiction, we had 15 mins writing about a family ‘ritual’. This gave us a good outside perspective on personal events, as well as giving us practice writing in a smaller number of words than we might be used to.
We had some great examples of how families celebrated together and how people interpreted events outside of their culture, as well as insight into different superstitions. Some good starting points indeed.
Jeff gave us a Tess Gallagher quote - “Tell me something I can’t forget” - to bear in mind as we read The Long Wet Grass by Seamus Scanlon, which was a competition winner in Fish Magazine in Ireland. Certainly a story to give you chills.
We had a look through some guidelines for writing Flash Fiction, which Jeff had compiled. We had a look at some examples which didn’t quite keep to them, to see why they weren’t as effective. We analysed a piece which didn’t have a satisfactory conclusion, and which had too much unnecessary detail in the story. A quick review of the guidelines and we were ready for our second exercise.
Jeff asked us to consider a time when we first realised that we had an identity. That is, when we realised that we were different from others, that we were female, or male, or rich, or poor, or English, or Indian, or any of the composites of identity which we discussed at the very beginning. This can be difficult – not just because we may have trouble recalling the memories, but because a lot of the examples that people gave were times when their identity had been used against them.
Food for thought about how our identities define us – not only to ourselves, but in the eyes of others. With no time left, Jeff gave us a list of prompts to help get the creative juices flowing after the workshop and we rounded off the session.
Thank you Jeff for an inspiring lesson!
You can find all of the material for this session in a separate post here.