On this final day as guest editor at SheWrites, I’d like to suggest a method for revision, a process you must undertake if you eventually want to publish your “flash” fiction and nonfiction. This comes from an excerpt of an article in The Rose Metal Press Field Guide for Writing Flash Fiction (http://www.rosemetalpress.com/Catalog/Field%20Guide_more.html) entitled “Editing and Revising Flash Fiction” written by Rusty Barnes.
Barnes uses a method he calls COPE, which will prove extremely helpful to you when sitting down for this phase of the writing process.
So what can be cut from a story? This goes further than simply eliminating adjectives and adverbs, the mere paring of words themselves. One place to begin is with your characters: there is room, generally, for no more than two or three acting characters in a work of flash fiction. Often, writers find themselves with a great central character whose progress or lack thereof is followed through on very well, and an extraneous character or two—color characters, let’s say—who can be summarily excised, and should be, because they don’t advance the story. That’s a first step.
A second step might be to cut extraneous detail. Many writers, when faced with a short piece, take the poetic approach, and fall back on their descriptive abilities as opposed to advancing the narrative line. This is generally a mistake. Apt detail, to use a boxing metaphor, is the constant jab of writing, and excessive detail like trying for a knockout with a wild haymaker. Jab throughout, and save the haymaker for the end, is often my advice.
After you’ve cut everything you possibly can, it’s time to put what pieces you have in their best order. This is probably the most difficult element of editing and revising. There are questions you can ask yourself as you edit and revise, however, that make the process easier: • If the story is one that depends on linear narrative, how well is the line delineated? • If the story is not linear, how does it move the reader forward? Is it consistent in the demands it makes on a reader? If the story meanders, what do you take the purpose of the meandering to be, and will it be clear enough to a reader without further signposting?
When it’s necessary to add, though, it’s nearly always only what might have been excised in the first step of the editing/revising process. The idea being that once the fat is pared away completely, you can better see where the grain of the meat is, and can add back those elements of the narrative that best serve the writer’s overall purpose. Often, it’s a matter of one explanatory clause or a particularly apt metaphor that makes a piece leap beyond itself into another realm of expertise or impact, a realm in which it’s only necessary to polish and perfect what’s already there.
Polishing is where subtleties in rhythm and variances in punctuation can make a big difference. Cutting, ordering, adding, polishing. It’s a simple four-step editing/revising method that works for any kind of writing, but is particularly suited to flash fiction because its first step demands the kind of attention that should be paid to any kind of prose sent out for publication.
A wonderful writing exercise is to write a piece of any length, as long as it’s 1200 words are fewer. Then cut that piece by half, then cut the halved piece by half again. You will see what is needed and not needed in your story by using this process and I can assure you that you’ll be amazed at just how little is required to make the story tight and resonant with meaning. Try it and see!
Thank you so much for spending time with me here at SheWrites and exploring flash fiction and nonfiction. It has been a pleasure getting to know you and to also read your comments and writing. Please come visit me either here at SheWrites or over at my blog: 20 Minutes a Day at lenleatherwood.wordpress.com. I’d love to read your flash either here or there. Until then, happy writing!