I’ve killed off my latest flash fiction story. It’s been through so many drafts it’s lost its energy and expired. I couldn’t leave it alone. To use a cooking metaphor, it was like opening the oven door on a sponge cake so many times it failed to rise.
The problem: This story began with an idea in my head – not a bad idea but I’d already chewed it over a few times before it arrived through my fingers on to the screen. The emotional charge wasn’t there in the first draft. I then attempted to work a better, more coherent plot round the idea, but couldn’t find it. The story arc was far too complicated for the word length; it began in the wrong place. What was I trying to say? It was definitely too much. Something about guilt, regret, grief? I wrote down the essence in notes, cut away flab, introduced more drama, a different tense, better dialogue. All wrong.
The best remedy is to leave this flash fiction alone. It might be born again in some form at a later date. In my previous post I quoted Vanessa Gebbie who advocates writing first drafts fast with energy created from a prompt. I’ve always liked the book ‘Fast Fiction:Creating Fiction in Five Minutes,’ 1997, by Roberta Allen. The ideas within the book aren’t unusual – there are visual prompts and about 300 word prompts – for example, write a story about a lie, write a story about a coward, but she has useful suggestions on ways of building up the pieces created from timed five minute slots.
So what about editing? If the energy is there after the fast draft, I guess it’s down to checking the plot shape, considering a title,looking at the first line, cutting out the flab and putting it away for a couple of days. On a second look I’ll follow the same process or put it away for longer. The important thing is to keep writing the stories, rather than overwriting one poor specimen. I remember reading somewhere that the award winning Irish short story writer Kevin Barry wrote about 100 stories in a year of which just a few lived to see the day.
Another obvious thing; It helps to read widely. I love reading short stories and organising the new Bath Flash Fiction Award, gives me the opportunity to read many different styles of flash fiction, note which ones impact and linger and assess why they work. Along with my colleagues who co-run the Bath Short Story Award, I get to read longer short stories too. This is one of the reasons why both these competitions are so rewarding. I learn a great deal about short story writing as well as tapping in to the great short story writing community out there.