Flash Fiction: An exercise in editing

This post is approximately 750 words, about as long as a typical flash fiction piece.

I discovered flash fiction a few summers ago. Seemed like the perfect way to churn out quick little stories that I didn’t want to flesh out further. I’m fan of O. Henry and fairy tales, both of which are often very short. For me, sometimes there wasn’t much story to tell, and that was fine. And with a word count of 500 to 1,000 words, it should be no problem cranking something out in less than an hour, especially for someone who’s been typing for more than half his life and finds himself bursting with ideas.

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So, oh yes, it was very easy to type quick stories: 1,200 words, 2,500 words, 5,000 words! How in the hashtag was I going to edit down stories of those lengths? Well, for the longer ones, I couldn’t. They would sit, untouched, until I had the time to flesh them out into longer short stories (the 5,000-word one has since doubled in length).

But the 1,200-worder posed a delightful challenge. I just needed to trim my story by 17% (yes, I’m an English major who likes math). That’s probably about what I should be looking to do with my writing anyways. In a story of this length, that was about two paragraphs. I reread the story, looking for a section to cut. And read it again. And again.

I was stuck.

Every paragraph seemed to drive the narrative forward. Every detail seemed critical. After all, why would I put in anything that wasn’t essential, especially when word count was a key consideration? I felt like I had laid a path with paving stones and was now trying to determine which ones to remove. At first glance, it seemed my smooth story would soon be filled with potholes.

All right. I’ll nickel and dime the heck out of it and see what that gets me. Continue reading

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The Edges of Fantasy

This post is about 600 words.

Seven years ago, I was shoveling my driveway for the third time in twenty-four hours. A blizzard was sweeping across the upper Midwest, making up for the lack of snow we’d had that season. I was happy for its arrival. The snow, not the blizzard.

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My preferred method of winter transport. They smell bad on the outside.

I have a routine when clearing the driveway: first define the edges, then push the snow outwards from the middle. That day, it struck me as analogous to how I wrote fantasy fiction, which was different than the way I wrote everything else. I thought I needed to approach fantasy by rigidly defining all aspects of the world before filling in the storyline. I felt I needed to know the limitations of my realm, which really seems counter-intuitive for a story designed to exist completely outside our own reality. Here’s a quick list of the things I wanted to create first:

Races, political history, creation myths, alphabet and language, folklore, weapons, armor, architecture, landscapes and geography, clothing and fashion, fighting styles, music and poetry, racism, and heroic legends

That’s a monumental amount of detail to develop before the main character begins the Hero’s Journey. Even though some story ideas blossomed from this world-creation, I struggled getting to the serious writing before I’d defined every aspect of my new world. Until I’d found the edges.

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“In my rewrite, this shop is on another street!”

That’s the real reason I never got far in my original fantasy novel. But man, oh man, I really enjoyed defining those things, which is part of the trap, right? It’s exhilarating to play god in your own little world, even if the devil is in the details. I might have put down 100,000 words on paper, but more than half were notes and definitions and guidelines and rules, rules, rules.

Consequently, I abandoned that epic fantasy novel, despite having created several maps, dozens of characters, and components of everything else on my aforementioned list. It was the right decision. It was too big for me and was going to get in the way of the rest of my life.

I knew I would eventually return to this world when I was ready. Continue reading

Writing Exercise #2: Out of the Rain

This post is approximately 400 words.

Some people have a musical soundtrack that plays through their minds as they walk or run. I have this, too, but more often than not, I have narration. My head is filled with the story of what could happen to someone in my situation. Not so long ago, it was a rainy walk to work.

The first sentence is the exact first thing that came into my head as I stepped onto the sidewalk. The rest followed me as I went.

*     *     *     *     *

He walked unconcernedly through the rain. The quiet drizzle was a nice respite from the thunderous show of the night before. His umbrella echoed with rhythmic pit-pats as his shoes splashed through puddled evidence of the storm. All-in-all, he told himself, it was a nice change from his usual morning walk to work. A little variation in an otherwise monotonous journey he’d made hundreds of times in the last five years. People ran past with jackets over their heads or briefcases held high, but their attempts to stay dry were in vain. He allowed himself a smile, though it still took an effort to bring it to his lips.

It took a few moments for him to realize – at least, that’s what he would tell himself later when he tried to recall the exact series of events – that the sound of the rain against his umbrella had gone. His feet still splashed in puddles, but it seemed the rain had stopped. He lowered his umbrella, looking around, but still saw others trying to protect themselves against the wet. He stopped, thinking that he must be in some pocket of quiet, the eye of the storm where all was peaceful.

A sudden gale nearly blasted him off his feet, buffeting him and drenching his clothes. He had a momentary glimpse of his tattered umbrella before it disappeared into the gray of the sudden deluge. Then as suddenly as it had hit, it ceased. Again he was in the quiet in the midst of the storm. But it was different this time.

The rain still fell, but it no longer touched him.

*     *     *     *     *

I have no idea where this goes. And it doesn’t matter. It’s more fun that way.

–Michael

See also: Writing Exercise #1: Be Uninspired

My bad writing day #1

This post is about 250 words. Note the #1 in the title. I expect many posts in this theme.

Yesterday was an all-around bad writing day: both at the office and in my personal life. My energy level was low. My creativity was non-existent. In fact, this post contains the uninspired remnants of the day. Fortunately, it’s short.

  • I needed to write some marketing copy. Nope.
  • I needed to work on my manuscript. Nope.
  • I needed to write a recommendation for someone. Nope.
  • I went to a go-to remedy for days like this: blogging. Big nope.

Most of what I wrote is garbage. Seriously. Here’s what it was like re-reading some of it this morning.

near vomit

Fortunately, years of writing have allowed me to jettison my ego when it comes to days like that. I’m willing to throw away every single word and start over. I’ve often found it takes more effort to fix uninspired writing than it does to simply begin again.

As such, the day was not a complete waste. As many have said before me, a person learns more from the failures than the successes. I learned (again) that days like this still occur regardless of how many thousands of hours I’ve spent on the craft.

Here are three helpful things to remember when you have a writing day like this:

  1. Bad writing does not equal a bad idea – go back to the heart of the idea
  2. Start fresh – don’t try to re-work garbage
  3. It always gets better – because it certainly can’t get worse!

Good luck and good writing!

–Michael

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© Michael Wallevand, August 2016