advice


Christopher Owen lives in Texas with his wife and two cats.  He holds Christopher Owen FFC
a degree in English  from the University of Texas system and has been
writing since childhood.  He is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and the Yale Summer Writing Program.  After retiring from a long career in aviation, he now writes full time.  His work has appeared at Daily Science Fiction, Every Day Fiction, Mirror Dance, New Myths and many other places.  Other than writing, his interests include cooking, photography, filmmaking, video editing, homebrewing, playing guitar, world travel, skiing and hanging out with cats.

 

Jessi Cole Jackson:  To begin: why a cigarette?

 

Cigarettes appear in A Cigarette for Lester because of the story’s origins in reality.  When I was a kid in the 70s my grandfather did live in a nursing home, and there was this old man residing there who always asked you for a cigarette.  That’s as far as the reality goes, though, but when I sat down to write one day, that memory popped into my head, so I decided to turn it into a story.  In the original draft, the story was about nothing more than the kid sneaking off and giving Lester what he wanted, a cigarette.  But through various rewrites the cigarette became a symbol, maybe even a totem representing forbidden fruit to both Lester and the kid.  The kid sort of takes a chance stealing the smokes from his dad, and thus he both pulls himself up into the adult world briefly, and brings a bit of it back for Lester, who is now an outcast from that world.  Initially the kid didn’t get caught and the ending was pretty flat, but through rewrites (via editorial suggestions from Every Day Fiction) I managed to ramp up the dramatic tension by having the nurse catch the kid and Lester smoking.  This also allowed me to bring the father back into the story, first with anger toward his son, but then having him do what possibly no father would do nowadays: give his young son a cigarette.  Thus at the end of the story the cigarette continued to have meaning as a sort of rite of passage between father and son.

 

Jessi Cole Jackson:  One of my favorite aspects of “A Cigarette for Lester” is the frustration running through the story. The frustration of the other people that Lester only says one word; Lester’s frustration at only wanting one thing in life and being denied it. Was that an intentional goal for the story? Did you have specific things you set out to do?

 
I usually just free write when I begin a story, sort of let it go where it wants to.  Then through rewrites I try to add depth and meaning.  In the initial draft, when the kid gives Lester the cigarette, Lester just spouted a bunch of senile old man gibberish.  But this felt quite flat to me.   Having Lester become coherent while he smoked may be a bit unrealistic, but I believe that such a thing is a possibility–a familiar object drawing out cohesive thoughts for a moment.  It also gave the story a great deal more depth, rounded out Lester as a character, and perhaps emphasized that people like Lester, despite being institutionalized, still have some life to live.  I think institutions like nursing homes have the best of intentions at heart, but in the name of healthy living they deny people things that make such a life bearable.  Some of the things that make life worth living are not always the best things for us, but they can be part of a rich and rewarding life, whether they be a drink and a smoke or the danger of climbing a hazardous mountain.  My own father spent his final months in a cancer hospice where he couldn’t drink or smoke, and I’ve always thought that, with his death immanent and unstoppable, denying him those things was unnecessary.

 

Jessi Cole Jackson:  What is your writing space like? Do you have any habits or rituals that you must do in order to write? What’s your typical process like?

 
I have two writing spaces.  The first is my office, which is cluttered to the gills with books and notepads and files and pictures and a lots of places for one of our cats to hang out.  I’ll straighten it out and that lasts for about a day, then the clutter returns, but I seem to work well with clutter.  I work there in the mornings, and in the afternoons I’ll move to my second space, taking my laptop outside for a change of scenery, and perhaps a cigar now and then while I work.  As to rituals, I really have none, but I have a few techniques that I use to get going when I don’t have a story in mind.  Some of them include taking five random words from the dictionary and seeing how they associate, seeing if by linking them I can form the kernel of a story.  I also sometimes listen to music, and sometimes the words of a certain song or just its music will inspire a story.  I’ve got over ten thousand songs on my iPod, so lots of possibilities there.  I think at least three of my stories up at Every Day Fiction were inspired by songs.

 

Jessi Cole Jackson:  If you were stuck in an institution, what would you hope someone would bring you?

 
Like most people, I hope to never end up in a nursing home or similar, but I guess if I were there, I’d want what the kid and the dad brought the grandfather, a visit.  I wouldn’t turn down the beer and smokes, though.
 
 

Jessi Cole Jackson:  What are you reading? Who are some of your influences/favorite authors?

 

Reading is very important to me, and I try to read for at least an hour every morning before I start my writing day.  If you read any book on writing, or listen to a successful writer speak, they’ll tell you that reading is very important to the craft of writing; you really can’t write well without reading a lot.  Luckily, I love to read and my reading interests are all across the board.  I read a lot of Science Fiction and Fantasy because I like it and also because I write a great deal in that genre.  Some of my favorites of that ilk are Tolkien, Ray Bradbury, Ursula Le Guin, Tad Williams, Anne McCaffrey, Theodora Goss, George R.R. Martin, Pat Cadigan, Robert V.S. Redick, Tim Powers (particularly The Anubis Gates and Last Call), and of course my favorite writer, John Crowley (Little, Big, The Aegypt Cycle, etc) who I was fortunate enough to have as a writing teacher at Yale.  Some of my mainstream favorites include Joanne Harris (Chocolat, Coastliners, Holy Fools, etc), Kurt Vonnegut, John Gardner, Raymond Carver and many others.  I also revisit the classics a great deal.  Hemingway is one of my favorites (and one of my heroes), as is Steinbeck, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Aristophanes and Homer.

 

Jessi Cole Jackson:  On your blog and in your bio you mention attending the Odyssey Writing Workshop. What were some of your favorite aspects of the workshop? How did it help you improve your writing? Would you recommend Odyssey or other workshops to beginning writers?

 
Odyssey was at times a grueling, soul-crushing experience, but it was well worth it.  I would recommend it for anyone who has been writing for a while and seriously wants to take things to the next level.  It’s sort of a six week long writing boot camp, but it is amazing to spend that much time dedicating yourself solely to your craft.  It features a rotating staff of top flight writers and editors (some past instructors have included George R.R. Martin, Harlan Ellison, Elizabeth Bear, Gary Braunbeck, John Joseph Adams) that bring a great deal to the experience, but the heart and soul of Odyssey is its director, Jeanne Cavelos.  Jeanne is a writer but she is also an editor (she won the World Fantasy Award for her work at Bantam Doubleday Dell, and is nominated for another this year for the Odyssey Workshop itself).  Being taught writing by an editor is an immensely valuable experience, and Jeanne knows more about the craft of writing and storytelling than anyone I’ve ever met.   I learned more about the nuts and bolts of writing in those six weeks than I did in the thirty some-odd years I’d been trying to write beforehand.  As for beginners, Odyssey really isn’t a beginner workshop.  It is, like the Clarion Workshop, highly competitive to get in, based upon writing samples and an interview, but for intermediate writers, it is often a fast track to success.  Odyssey graduates have gone on to win or be nominated for Hugos, Nebulas and World Fantasy Awards, and some have ended up on the New York Times Best Sellers List.  You’ll also end up being a part of an ongoing writing community that offers lots of support and encouragement.

 

Jessi Cole Jackson:  What projects are you currently working on? Could you point readers to other stories of yours, either forthcoming or published?

 
I’ve got almost forty stories published, from short flash fiction like my stories at Every Day Fiction to longer works, including a few Novelettes and Novellas.  My blog has a publications page with links to many of them.  I’m currently working on a few different novels, and I sort of switch back and forth between which one I’m working on to keep from getting burnt out.  These include Faith, a mainstream novel about the romantic relationship between an atheist and the very religious daughter of a televangelist; a science fiction novel,Behavior, about an unorthodox rehabilitation method in the future; and a fantasy novel, The Fairies of Maine, which follows the supernatural exploits of a group of people at an inn in Maine during the week of Midsummer’s Eve.  Finally I’ve got a Civil War novel called Fentress that is based on some of my own ancestors that I learned about during genealogical research.  So, obviously I’ve got enough to keep me busy for a while.  I still try to write short fiction as well, and I’m deeply in love with flash fiction.  I think I’ll always write flash, as I love the format, and the way one can craft an entire tale in a single sitting.   I’m infinitely grateful to Every Day Fiction for providing a venue to feature so much of it.

_______________________________________

Jessi Cole Jackson lives and works in New Jersey, though she’s not from there. By day she buildsJessi_Cole_Jackson-150x150 costumes for a Tony Award-winning theatre. By night she writes stories, questionable poetry and lots of abandoned outlines. When she’s not working she enjoys cooking, reading, and exploring local farms. You can read more about her sometimes exciting (but mostly just normal) life at jessicolejackson.com.

by April Bradley

Lately, I’ve been focusing on an aspect of character development in my own work that I’ve noticed in stories that catch my attention, especially in flash fiction: revealing character through embodied movement. A character’s lifelike qualities emerge vividly out of how she occupies the narrative space. The brevity and compression of flash allows writers to experiment with form and structure with few constraints. In respect to embodied movement, as with any aspect of fiction, the writing and the words carry more freight. One of the more memorable examples is Ron Carlson’s “The Great Open Mouth Anti-Sadness.” The whole piece is a wonderful work of characterization, yearning, emotion, and movement in a confined space:

He worked one dress shoe off with the other, and then held it on a toe as long as he could. The air cooled his arch perfectly, and he thought that: perfect. Evaporation was such a stunning feature of life on earth. Water rises into the air. Now he opened his mouth and then a little wider than was comfortable. [1]

Another is Kathy Fish’s lovely “Tenderoni” from Smokelong Quarterly, where a young woman watches her boyfriend figure out how to move a dead kitten off the road:

My boyfriend and I grab our bikes and pedal across town for a parade which has probably been cancelled anyway. Ahead, Mark’s skinny calves pump, his day glo rain poncho flaps behind him like a flag. He stops and gets off the bike and I catch up to him.

“Oh, damn,” I say. “A kitty.”

“It looks sort of lumpy,” he says. There’s a drop of rain holding on to the tip of his nose and steam rising from his shoulders. “We should move it.”[2]

We know nothing about this couples’ ages, not much about how they look, or exactly where they are. It’s raining, they want to see a parade, they ride bicycles. One likes to smoke, one wears glasses. They are tender with one another. Readers feel like they share something intimate and significant with these people. Most of what we learn about them is from how they move and act and in what they say to one another.

Characters move through space and display physical characteristics, emotional expressions, and psychological states. They also convey their intellect, sexuality, humor, mood, opinions, trauma, and the status of their relationships. How a character conducts herself in the story tells us more than a description. We typically take advantage of dialogue as an opportunity for subtext, but movement can enrich characterization without having to rely on explication. When we show how a character emotes, for example, the disparity between their inner lives and their exterior responses contribute to tension and conflict. Nancy Stohlman in The Vixen Scream and Other Bible Stories cleverly borrows most everything the story needs with a one-word title, “Samson” and writes twenty-one more words of precise movement and dialogue:

“Don’t worry, we’ll both do it,” Delilah said, reaching for the hair clippers on the counter next to the lice shampoo.” [3]

How a character or reader changes and transforms over time in the narrative space has something to do with embodiment and movement, even if there is little to no embodiment and/or restricted movement. They are enabled to act in some way. A character’s movement also influences how time dilates and constricts, speeds up and slows down. This is how character movement can regulate pacing and momentum.

In “Abbreviated Glossary” Gay Degani uses concise, stark sentences to convey an emotionally charged story in 150 words that takes place over eight months:

Pact:
His lips disappear between his teeth when I break the news. He says he’s not ready—no diapers for him—but I know he is. I’ll do the hard part. I promise.
Hope:
My fingers knead the curve of my belly. Dev slips an arm around my waist and grins at his boss. Proud papa.[4]

Amelia Gray in “House Heart” tells the story of how a couple lures a woman to their home and traps her in the ductwork. For one woman, her whole world becomes the visible interior of the house and how she dwells in it with her husband and this new, determined presence. For another woman, her space is confined to the interior of a house and the spaces she creates:

We licked each other’s faces, listening to the girl above us. At that moment, she was learning that she could crawl on her hands and knees in he main passage, but that in the smaller lines, she would have to slide on her belly, arms outstretched, pulling herself forward.[5]

Eventually, everyone’s focus narrows to the interior where violations of hospitality play out.

Character development through movement is another way for our characters to gain more presence, mass, and substance. A young, recently injured gymnast is going to move very differently than his older brother who is a former heavyweight class wrestler and makes glass for a living. There are also characters we cannot help but remember always, not so much for the way they look but for their presence and how they bear themselves in a story.

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[1] Carlson, Robert. “Great Open Mouth Anti-Sadness.” Flash Fiction Forward: 80 Very Short Stories. Ed. James Thomas & Robert Shapard. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006. 62-63.
[2] Fish, Kathy. “Tenderoni” Smokelong Quarterly. Issue 28. October 2, 2008 Accessed June 13, 2015. http://www.smokelong.com/flash/kathyfish22.asp
[3] Stohlman, Nancy. “Samson.” The Vixen Scream and Other Bible Stories. Magill SA, Australia: A Pure Slush Book, 2014, 86.
[4] Degani, Gay. “Abbreviated Glossary.” Melusine, or Woman in the 21st Century. Accessed June 13, 2015. http://www.melusine21cent.com/mag/node/251
[5] Gray, Amelia. “House Heart.” Gunshot: Stories. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015. 16.

 

April Bradley is a native of Goodlettsville, Tennessee and lives with her family on the Connecticut shoreline. Her fiction and creative nonfiction has or will appear in Thrice Fiction, Narratively, Southern Women’s Review, Hermeneutic Chaos and other publications. April serves as the Senior Assistant Editor for Bartleby Snopes Literary Magazine.

by Glenn Mori

I am chagrined when I critique someone’s writing and point out a lack of tension and emotion (the grit under interactions, the differences in perspectives, the micro-tension on the small scale, crisis and conflicts on the larger scale, and ask ‘where’s the anxiety, worry, irritation, miscommunication?’), then discover the same failing in my own fiction.

The source of the problem (for me at least; I’m not sure about my writing partners) is usually multifaceted.

Writing from plot. I don’t always write from plot, but when I do, I can be in a hurry to move up the story ladder. Quantity of description falls, line-by-line writing quality drops, characters become inconsistent or cardboard or boring. I’m not putting myself in my character’s skin to look around and experience their world.

I’ve failed to communicate what I intended. When I proofread my writing, I read between the lines and don’t realize it.  Instead of seeing what’s written, I re-experience what I was thinking when I wrote it. This kind of writing is useful only if no one else reads it; a diary, for example, or a personal blog.

These problems can occur simultaneously. I might design characters around a plot and believe that I’m ready to write, but in reality I have flimsy character sketches zap-strapped to my plot skeleton and I don’t see weaknesses because I sense more in my words than I’ve actually written. I suspect this happens often with beginning writers who try to patch it with “interesting traits” or “examples of conflict” from a website to fill the story out.

Also,

Some of my characters are close friends.  They have similar values, similar goals, get along well. But if there are no differences, they are essentially a single character. I’ve swapped internal narrative and solitary ventures for conversation and a wingman.  Without diversity it can be boring to read. A sidekick has to have more reason to exist than to replace introspection with dialogue.

These are not uncommon issues for a first draft, but it may require the comments or questions of an experienced reader to point out the weaknesses, and then self-evaluation to determine the reason.

And something I’ve discovered recently,

I write like a reader, not a writer.

As a reader, I may be looking for adventure and excitement. If I carry that into my writing, then I’m fine.

Other times I become too attached to the characters to enjoy the ride. When I’ve identified closely with them, then difficulties or dangers worry me. Conflicts and misunderstandings stress me. It’s uncomfortable to read a scene where two friends disagree. Obvious bad decisions are frustrating. Foreboding circumstances and increasing tension distress me. Inescapable positions generate claustrophobia. Occasionally I’ll find myself speed-reading through passages of high anxiety.

As a writer I can avoid stress by skipping the sources. Husband and wife don’t have to have underlying resentments. A friend doesn’t need misgivings about the heroine’s date. Partners can be in full agreement about the next step in the investigation. Everyone interprets the information or data exactly the same. No one argues, feels lazy, is naïve, makes mistakes, acts condescendingly, is irritable because of a cold, or loses things.

In real life, when the bulk of our interactions with family, co-workers, and fellow transit passengers doesn’t get our heart rate up, we live a comfortable life. I’m certain there are portions of some genres where this is common, but it’s pretty hard to make interesting reading from untroubled characters leading a stress-free life.

So, love your characters as you love yourself. But look for the emotion in their lives, and if you find you haven’t included enough, figure out why. Slip inside their skin, search for the tension, and communicate it to the reader.

When someone critiques your work and suggests it lacks tension or drama, don’t get defensive. Don’t start listing all the worries and concerns they’ve missed because odds are, if someone says it’s lacking, there’s either too little and/or it’s not well communicated.

Don’t write a fantasy about how wonderful your life could be. Write like a writer.

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Fiction is Glenn’s most recent area of study. The first discipline was music, where he completed a masters degree in music composition, followed by accounting, more practice with jazz music, and then writing about online poker, where he remains winning micro stakes player. His ruminations about fiction can be found at www.intermittentrain.com.  Follow him on Twitter @gmori.

by Camille Gooderham Campbell

Camille Campbell

This post first appeared at the author’s website, Copy. Edit. Proof.

We all read through filters of one sort or another.

Some filters are highly specific. There’s expert knowledge — the cop who rolls his eyes over procedural inaccuracies, the doctor who shakes her head over medical impossibilities — and there’s genre expertise — the avid science fiction fan who recognizes themes and plots that seem fresh to more general readers, the 18th century literature student who recognizes allusions and in-jokes that most other readers would miss. Without the resources to hire expensive expert consultants at every turn, there’s not much an editor can do but hope nothing too egregious slips by.

Other filters are recognizably subjective. When a dude dismisses a story as chick lit, or a “serious” reader with a preference for award winners and the literary elite dismisses a story as fluff, a subjective filter is being applied — the story is being judged in comparison to the reader’s preferences. The reverse can happen, too; a fondness for a particular theme or interest in a set of characters can cause a reader to overlook prose issues or plot holes, and even fill in gaps and ascribe depth to the material that isn’t there. Genre conventions sometimes permit and even invite elements that would, in a different context, be met with scorn.

The most subjective filters of all are, of course, filters of emotion. It’s virtually impossible to be purely objective when reading a story by a spouse, child, or dear friend. Nor is it reasonable to expect objectivity or even a rational response when reading a story that triggers some past personal trauma.

Personally, I don’t think anyone is capable of reading entirely without filters. The reading experience is a combination of what the author gives to the story and what the reader takes from it, and any time perception and interpretation and taste come into play, we’re automatically applying our filters to what we’re taking in — sometimes even to the point of not actually hearing what’s being said or absorbing what’s on the page.

The big question is where the responsibility lies for recognizing those filters.

One can’t say that the end reader “ought to” realize that s/he is reading through a complex set of preferences, biases, emotions, and possibly specialized knowledge. That’s not a reasonable demand, because the end reader (by which I mean someone who buys or borrows or is given a book to read for his/her own pleasure — the end consumer, in a reading sense; the general public) isn’t answerable to anyone for his/her reading. If I choose to pick up a random book and read it, I don’t have to justify that choice or provide a critical assessment of that book; it’s just… what I happen to be reading. We are all, sometimes, end readers and entitled to just enjoy (or, er, not enjoy) a story without having to explain ourselves.

On the other end of the spectrum, publishing professionals absolutely must recognize their personal filters and guard against them. When choosing and recommending reading material for others, it’s staggeringly important to be self-aware and to strive for an impartial, objective assessment. Particularly when it comes to rejections, for example, a responsible editor needs to make choices based on readership preferences rather than personal preferences. I’m not perfect, but I do my best, and it’s not unheard of for me to ask one of my co-editors for an additional opinion when it comes to a story that I recognize to be outside of my individual comfort zone (e.g., “guy humour” — sometimes I need to ask a male editor about those ones, because I *know* I’m just not appreciating all there is to be appreciated). I’m including professional reviewers and librarians in this category, with huge respect, both for their roles in recommending books to readers and because there’s an expectation of impartiality and having the best interests of the end reader at heart.

But what about independent book bloggers, commenters on stories at EDF, social reading enthusiasts connecting on Goodreads and LibraryThing? Somewhere between a public professional life in reading (editors, publishers, professional reviewers, librarians) and a completely private life in reading (someone who just reads for pleasure or self-edification and doesn’t talk about it), there’s a grey area of what one might call personal commentary. There’s no professional requirement or standard to start a book blog, to write a review and post it on a social reading site, to get involved in commenting on stories published online. And there’s absolutely no way that an external source could impose moral/intellectual requirements or standards on personal commentary, because it’s just that — personal. Websites can ask for courtesy and delete responses that fail to comply, block specific words earmarked as inappropriate, or hold comments for moderation until a staffer has a chance to review them for suitability, but there’s no way to make participants recognize or turn off their natural filters.

The question is, do readers engaging in personal commentary have any responsibility within themselves to recognize and/or acknowledge that there may be filters involved in their perceptions?

I don’t know.

On the one hand, I want to recognize every reader’s right to have a genuine and natural opinion without worrying about what it means or whether s/he should feel that way. On the other hand, as soon as one engages in expressing an opinion in public and to strangers, isn’t there some responsibility to balance that opinion with an acknowledgement of the factors that might influence it?

And then, I suppose that’s the funny thing about responsibility in general. You can’t make someone else take it. It has to come from within.

____________

Camille Gooderham Campbell is Managing Editor of Every Day Fiction and one third of Every Day Publishing. She has an Honours B.A. specializing in English Literature from the University of Toronto, where she was privileged to study creative writing with Professor J. Edward Chamberlin. She has also studied advertising copywriting and marketing communications at the British Columbia Institute of Technology.

by Lori Sambol Brody

Lori

Although I could write a first draft of a flash in a sort of fevered daydream, I was unable to revise that story.  I felt like my stories were chiseled in stone, and, aside from line edits, I couldn’t see how the engravings could be any different.  I would be paralyzed after workshops, knowing that my story did not quite work, but not knowing how to revise the story.

This mindset changed, however, during a writing workshop with Rachel Resnick, who writes both memoire and fiction.  All she needed to say was one word: “re-vision.”  Meaning:  re-seeing, re-invention, finding new insight in the story.  This one word was a catalyst.  If my initial writing of the story was a daydream, my re-vision of a story is lucid dreaming, where I am in control, wresting the knife away from the monster, and changing the ending.  For me, this is the most intellectual part of writing, taking my first draft and looking at it in a carnival mirror to find its potential.

In order to take a new perspective on work, I have used a number of different techniques.  (Note that I write literary flash fiction, rather than genre, but these same techniques should apply to genre fiction as well.)

I participate in a writing group.  I always have other people read the story to help in the revision process.  These readers can identify what works and does not work and what steps I need to take in revision.  While in a standard workshop, the person whose story is being workshopped usually does not have a dialogue with other participants, a more loosely structured writing group permits a back-and-forth conversation about a story.  The key is to find “your people” – the people who get your work and are not afraid to critique it.  Workshops provide another benefit:  critiquing other people’s work also develops techniques I use on my own stories – I can approach my story as if the story has been written by someone else.

I put the story down for a (long) time.  Sometimes the story is too new, too raw, for me to have another perspective on it.  In this situation, I need distance.  While some people may need days or weeks, I sometimes need months or years.  Returning to the story after the scab has healed allows me to be far more productive in revising and to have an ability to see the story in a different way – truly to re-see my story.

I highlight themes and images to draw through the story.  Symbols or themes often appear in rough drafts by mistake or through the subconscious.  In a technique I learned from Rachel Resnick, during the re-vision process, I review the text and highlight each symbol or image that stands out.  Physically highlighting in bright colors exposes themes that I may not have intended.  I then choose themes to emphasize and images to draw through the story.  In longer works, I use different color highlighters for different themes, but for flash fiction I include one theme, use a light hand in doing so, and delete words that distract from that theme.  For example, I am currently working on a piece where a seamstress in an early 1900’s New York sweatshop looks out the window and sees an exotic water bird.  In revising the story, I realized that the bird could stand for a life outside the sweatshop of which she can only dream.  In my revisions, I added some other bird imagery to the piece, embellishing a hat another seamstress puts on at quitting time with a plume, and having this same woman, ultimately, fall from the fire escape like a seagull.

I give myself permission to play with the story.  Re-vision of a story requires a different way of seeing a story, perhaps changing much of the original version.  For example, in my story about an American woman’s visit to her Turkish boyfriend’s family fish farm, the boyfriend sees her difficulties in eating a whole trout, says “You’ll make a mess of it,” and takes her plate to de-bone the fish himself.  Earlier drafts (of which I have nine on my computer) contained, however, revelation of a pregnancy (quickly jettisoned), interaction between the boyfriend, the farm’s caretaker, and the caretaker’s wife, and a flashback scene where the boyfriend chides the woman for talking to a carpet salesman.  None of these elements appear in the final version of the story.  In drafting these alternate scenes, I gave myself permission to have fun with the story, develop conversations and actions just to see what will happen, to see if gems come out of it.  If a character in one draft refuses to respond to a question, I would explore how the conversation would continue.  If a character takes one path, I would explore what happens if she takes another path.  Only in the sixth draft did I come up with the scene where the boyfriend, disgusted at her attempts to de-bone a trout, takes it from her.

The corollary of this rule is:

I give myself permission to fail.  Not all ideas I have are successful, as revealed in the ideas I discarded in the fish farm story.

I ensure that all words are essential and have resonance.  In a flash, all words – and, by extension, all dialogue and images – must be essential to the story.  I pare my piece down to the essence.  For genre stories, everything must relate to the plot, to the ultimate end of the story being told.  For literary fiction, every word must shine and sparkle and any tired metaphor must be eliminated.  I often use the same “highlighter” method to highlight words or metaphors that are cliché, and then replace them.  In addition, in flash, words and images may have to work double-time.  For example, in the original draft of a recent story, a teenage girl describes her father hitting on a woman during a camping trip: “Dad talked to Kate over the campfire.”  I highlighted this and, in re-visions, the sentence changed to “Dad told Kate his sailing stories.”  This (hopefully) conveyed not only that the narrator has heard the stories many times (and her attitude toward her father) but also that the stories were not quite truthful.

While I may never love re-vision, at least I now can take steps to make the re-vision easier and more effective.

____________

Lori Sambol Brody lives in the mountains of Southern California.  Her short fiction has been published in Tin House Flash Fridays, New Orleans Review, WhiskeyPaper, alice blue review, Atticus Review, and elsewhere.  She can be found on Twitter at @LoriSambolBrody at at lorisambolbrody.wordpress.com.

 

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