Interview with Dr. Theodore Jerome Cohen, Author
Flash fiction writing prompts free are included in this post.
What is your best advice for writing students?
Students should be encouraged to write about what they know. Kids say they are always at a loss about what to write, yet, they have had experiences: with their pets, their boy/girlfriends, teachers, parents, relatives, employers, strangers they have met on planes, trains, busses, boats, and so forth. What intrigued them about a person? What surprised them? Were they ever befriended only to be betrayed? (How come it’s never our enemies who betray us?!) Students need to be encouraged to realize they have a world of possible writing topics already within themselves.
The key, in all cases, is to write what you know! I tell students: “Think about your life and your experiences. You are unique. There is no one like you. Talk about the things that mattered or matter to you…the things that changed you or how you, in some way, changed the life of someone else. And just start writing. Put down the things that come to you. There’s always time to rearrange and edit. Don’t wait for that first sentence; write the second sentence!”
What is your best advice for writing teachers?
Writing prompts should be photographs, not sentences. Teachers may wish to use a specific photograph as a prompt for a theme around which students can pen their stories. Photos can provide great inspiration. Teachers may want to start, or add to, collections of photographs of various things: people, animals, automobiles. Almost anything can be used as a prompt. Perhaps a choice from a set of three photographs could be used to allow students to select a “topic” to accommodate their ideas for an initial story.
You have published five flash fiction books, and have another to be released this August. All are titled Creative Ink, Flashy Fiction. Do you have advice for those who wish to apprentice themselves to this style of writing?
In general, when writing a short or flash fiction story, the focus is on character and mood. Importantly, however, the overriding question facing the writer is: does something significant change in the story? This is literary fiction’s version of plot. It can be subtle, but it must be felt by the characters and by the reader. Of course, this is true for all fiction writing, but especially so for the short/flash fiction genre.
Also, flash fiction comes in many sizes: 100, 250, 1000, 2000, etc., words. It all depends on who’s doing the defining. I like 250-word stories for starting out. That seems to be just enough to get off a good story without having to strain too much. By the way, if you want to try your hand at writing stories of this length using photographic prompts, the Website Indies Unlimited runs a weekly competition every Saturday morning. You’ll find the postings and rules here:
Give it a try. And get your friends to read your work and vote for you! Who knows, you might just come up a winner!
Dr. Theodore Jerome Cohen, would you like to share a sample story with us?
Yes, here is one.
If the story is too small for you to read, please note it is included in the free printable.
Flash Fiction Writing Prompts Free
What should a teacher emphasize in teaching flash fiction writing?
I think kids today are put off by the idea of writing exercises, story-length targets, word prompts/topics, and the like. Somehow, you have to lure them into the idea that you’re revealing the secret to great writing, the secret to envisioning a complete story in their minds based on something as simple as a photographic prompt. Flash fiction is a way of making the writing process so much easier than it’s been in the past, where all they were given was a topic and a word limit. It’s just a matter of showing them the benefits inherent in this method and why it’s different from anything to which they’ve ever been exposed.
Since you are an author, did you enjoy being in English class when in school?
I used to hate it when my English teachers would say “You have a 500-word theme due on Monday,” and then give a one or two-word topic. How much more inspirational would it have been to show a photograph, perhaps engage in some discussion of the emotions it evoked, and then, turn everyone lose. Of course, this was 65 years ago, but kids haven’t changed…and from what I’ve seen, either have teachers. In all of my flash fiction books, the photos came first. They were the inspirations for the stories. That the local high school has adopted photo prompts says it all.
*Editor’s Note: The local high school, after seeing Dr. Cohen’s first book of flash fiction, starting teaching creative writing by providing photographic prompts to the students and asking them to write stories based on those prompts. The found this technique far more effective than simply giving students a topic.
With that in mind, the freebie for this post is a picture prompts download that I hope teachers will find useful. It could be used for morning quick-writes, very short stories, or flash fiction. I had to have an owl on one page, of course.
And do you know any castaways? The students probably do! The writing piece might be humorous or adventurous.
Dr. Theodore Jerome Cohen has written books for ages Pre-K through adult and I have reviewed some of his book on this blog.
Thank you for reading, Carolyn
Creative Ink, Flashy Fiction – Books 1-6
You may like the books by Theodore Jerome Cohen, available on Amazon. I am not an affiliate. They are rated PG 13, I think, and would be appropriate for high school classes. Reading them inspired me to write two posts, so I want to mention them.
The seventh flash fiction has an animal theme and will be an eBook only.
You might also like the blog post with free letter-sized teaching posters or bulletin board display posters, additional writing prompts, and rubrics at this blog post.