Fri 26 Feb 2010
Stories sometimes fall out of our heads and onto the computer screen, surprising us, filling us with an elation that comes mighty close to other kinds of elations. The temptation is to get it out there into some editors hands immediately. Usually we zip it straight to the editor we want most to love our work, an editor who’ll email us with praise, no edits, and a Pushcart nomination. We are hot and bothered, and to use a phrase from my junior high years –STOKED–because we realize we’re beginning to get it. Writing is getting easier…
Beware the flush of love…I mean, the flush of drafts that are effortless. Sometimes they really are good. Sometimes they just FEEL good. The most important thing to remember is WAIT. Sleep on it. Don’t lose your heart on a one night stand. At least not yet.
After you’ve cooled down, taken a hot shower, and rested, you may discover that what you’ve written is almost ready to go, but it needs proof-reading, a little polish, it needs to be more than it is. On the occasion when the Muse has guided you, maybe a proof-read is enough. But most of the time–I’d say 99% of the time–if it’s that good, it can still be better.
Taking a piece of writing one more level up can mean the difference to finding a home for a story and not finding a home.
It could be as simple as doublechecking to see if your opening is sharp, seductive, and just as important, prescient. Does it set up your ending. If the first sentence, the first paragraph is a scene where siblings fight, then what you have communicated to the reader is that the relationship between this brother and this sister is important enough to start off your story. I’m basically talking about short stories here, especially flash because the word count is such that nothing can be put into the story because because the author likes it or because that how it started in the head of the writer. Not good enough.
That opening paragraph must signal in some way, and yes it can be subtle, what it is this story is about. It should suggest both the main characters “journey and epiphany” without giving away the ending. It can be done in clear straight forward way or it can be subtle, even metaphorical, but it does need to give the reader a hint to the main conflict, what this story is about on a “plot level” and on a “thematic level.” And yes, good genre writing has a theme just like “lit.”
Creating the link between the beginning of the story and the end will bring complexity to a story.
Word count is a tool. It sets up boundaries and when there are boundaries we are pushed to know about them, accomodate them, and break away from them. Word count forces us to look at our stories under a microscope and to needle away anything that doesn’t do service to the story.There are almost always words and phrases that can be cut or sentences reworded by finding more exact and vivid language.
We all put words and phrases in stories when we are writing drafts and some of them eventually become invisible to us. But many of them become obsolete or unnecessary as we work with the material zeroing in on just what the story is about.
I am trying to teach myself patience. Trying to set aside work I think is strong in that first rush to the page, just for a day or two, before deciding if this is the best I can do. And it never is because when I reread the attachment to the submission I’ve sent off in the afterglow of a good write (and I can never resist), there’s always a flaw in the first paragraph, a misused word, an awkwardness, and I want to haul it back from the ether and have it at least one more time.
Gay Degani has published in journals and anthologies including The Best of Every Day Fiction 2008 and The Best of Every Day Fiction TWO (2009). Her stories online can be read at Smokelong Quarterly, The Battered Suitcase, Night Train, Every Day Fiction as well as other publications. Pomegranate Stories is a collection of eight stories by Gay. She is the editor of EDF’s Flash Fiction Chronicles and blogs at Words in Place.