Monday, December 2, 2013

When Stories Talk Back: How Flash Helps Writers Revise

Sometimes a story tells you what it’s about; you just have to be listening.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece of flash fiction. As I advise my students, I let the piece sit before revising it. Also, as I advise people, I went to a different venue to reread the work before tinkering with it. I suggest this because it’s surprising how much you’ll see in your writing when you read it somewhere else. It’s also surprising, especially in flash, how changing a word can change the story.
Before I changed any words, I opened a new Word document. With a hardcopy of the original story on the table, I retyped each word into the blank document, thinking as I wrote how the meaning of the piece might change if I selected a different word instead of what I had. In taking each word slowly and making the revision mentally before making it on the page, I could hear internally how the piece changed along with the word change. This worked especially well with flash because of the compact nature of the genre.
Word by word, or bird by bird, I revised the piece. Although it was one of those stories that was largely intact when I first conceptualized it, taking it a word at a time and letting the story tell itself made a tighter, more precise piece than I started with. Even more important, the meaning was richer for the careful word choices.
If you’re interested in honing your precision with prose, take this lesson to heart, learn your story by ear and practice your art with flash.