Monday, September 10, 2007

Paring it down

I've been rewriting. Or, closer to the truth, slashing. I've had some success in the past few months in taking a short story a few thousand words long that I like but that isn't quite working - and rewriting it as a flash, under 500 words. What happened in the case of one story is that it began with the same opening scene but then went in a completely different direction. That flash then won 2nd prize in a competition. I thought, Aha, I'm onto something!

I decided to try this with all of my "problematic" stories, of which there were four main ones. I rewrote two in the last two weeks and it has been a revalation. One, which I must have tried writing ten times from different viewpoints, tenses etc.. over the past year or so (that's not including different drafts, hundreds), I began again and pared down to 240 words. When I say "pared down" I mean stripped of everything. It's not even in complete sentences now. It has exposed the raw story, any waffle is gone, such as lengthy explanations of why my main character does the bizarre thing he does to library books. All it is now is the story - what he does. No why, almost no where. My online flash group seemed to love it, they said it was a great combination of form and content - the choppiness of the writing matched the plot.

The second story I redid in this way came out longer than 240 words, around 1000, but before my groups said that the main character's tone was wrong for the story - too flippant, too cheery. All previous drafts of the story had also been quite cryptic about what it was she was doing. So this time I began with the first line stating what she was doing, taking away the mystery. The story became why not what , and while laying out the why all her anger and bitterness at her life came pouring out. A completely different story.

So, rewriting - paring down - is highly recommended. The discipline of making something a flash - whether under 500 words or under 1000 - brings out something very different, doesn't allow space for non-relevant padding. I have two more stories (at least) to tackle this way. Will see what comes of them.


ireneintheworld said...

Great idea tania, i might just try that myself. most of my short stories don't really work, as they are.


TitaniaWrites said...

Hi Irene,
thanks for stopping by. I highly recommended flash-izing a story that isn't quite hitting the mark, you will learn a lot and maybe it will help you with the longer piece or maybe it will become it's own shorter self!


Chelsey Flood said...

An excellent idea. I must try this with one of the seventy or so problem stories currently residing in my laptop.
Of course, none of them have endings so it might not have quite the same effect as on your stories.
Any exercise ideas for making quick but poignant endings? That's a joke by the way, it's so hard to tell via text (especially when your jokes are not funny).
TAJ, it's like laugh out loud, but more instructive...

Anonymous said...

This is fascinating! I am leading a 6-hour flash fiction workshop this weekend and will share this entry with my students. (I love your blog, btw!)
Nicole Vollrath

TitaniaWrites said...

Chelsey - 70 stories is plenty of material for 70 great flashes!
Nicole -how lovely that you stopped by. A 6 hour flash writing workshop sounds wonderful, let me know how it goes.