Colette Sartor is a bona fide smartypants. A graduate of Harvard Law School, she received her MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop and has published in the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, and the Harvard Review, among others. This quarter, she helps short fiction writers hone their craft in a supportive workshop environment at the four-day Writers’ Studio in February. Read on to learn more about how flash fiction can help you improve your craft, whether you’re writing a short short story or an epic novel trilogy.

Writers’ Program: What is flash fiction, and what are a few of your favorite examples?

Colette Sartor: Flash fiction is primarily defined by length constraints (e.g., a story told in around 1,000 words or less), but there is more to flash than brevity. It must also contain a narrative arc that takes readers on a journey in which every word, every detail, every action/reaction is essential.

Some of my favorites include “My Jockey” by Lucia Berlin, “Little Magpie” by Randall Brown, “Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros, “Brisket” by Stuart Dybek, “Ramona” by Sarah Gerkensmeyer, and “Encounters with Unexpected Animals” by Bret Anthony Johnston.

WP: How can flash be helpful for students who are interested in writing in longer forms?

CS: Flash fiction helps students better understand how to tell a compelling story, regardless of length. It forces students to find inventive ways to pack an entire story—complete with complex characters mired in conflicts that challenge their every desire—into a microcosmic universe. In addition, unlike a novel or even a longer short story, students can quickly draft a piece of flash fiction that they can then deconstruct into its various working components in order to understand the craft elements essential to telling a story of any length.

WP: Tell us your favorite thing about the Writers Studio.

CS: I love the camaraderie that develops during the Studio. The intensity of spending four days together, discussing writing and creating whole worlds in such brief spaces, generates an enthusiasm and a productivity level that carry over into students’ everyday lives, leaving them energized to attack their ongoing writing projects armed with new insights.

WP: What can students expect to get out of your Studio course?

CS: They can expect to write a lot. A whole lot. Each day is packed with in-class and take-home writing exercises as well as discussions about published flash fiction and craft techniques. Students will also have the opportunity to workshop their own stories and receive feedback to help them produce at least one completed piece of flash fiction. Given the amount of writing they’ll do both in and out of class, they will also emerge with numerous drafts of short stories that will keep them writing and revising long after the course is over.

WP: What was your favorite fiction (short or long form) of 2015?

CS: Among my favorites are Lucia Berlin’s short story collection A Manual for Cleaning Women, Karen Bender’s short story collection Refund, Leslie Pietrzyk’s short story collection This Angel on My Chest, Vu Tran’s novel Dragonfish, and Kate Atkinson’s novel A God in Ruins.

Click here or call 310-825-9971 to enroll in Flash Fiction (Reg # 260902). For advising on this or any of our courses, please call 310-825-9415.

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