|The People We Used To Be|
Well, at least for me, it’s harder than it looks. I usually go through draft after draft, cutting words and slicing those “throat-clearing” phrases as if my pen was a scalpel, attempting to uncover the heart of the story, to bare its bones, sharp and hard, on the page.
I thought the best way to illustrate my process – such as it is – is with an example. Here’s an early draft of my story, What’s Eating Xavier?
The rest of the landscape crew was up the block. Xavier was alone at the house at the end of the street.
His machine cuts into the concrete porch like teeth chewing and tearing at flesh and bone. The machine bucks, its gears gnashing, its motor burning hot then dying a cold death. Xavier curses. He prods at the bushes, feels his way along the wall, feeling for gouges in the concrete. Maybe, if it’s small enough, he can let it go, arrange the bushes over it so no one will be the wiser and he wouldn’t get in trouble.
His fingertips press against the crumbling concrete. He measures it, smiles. Not too big, not too bad at all. He would be okay.
Then something inside the crack reaches out its tongue and licks him.
Hmm…I see some good stuff buried beneath that flabby prose. Shorter, tighter sentences and more intense, vigorous words would accentuate the creepy factor. I also ask myself - what does the reader need to know for the story to work? In this case, a few things: Xavier is working alone near a supposedly haunted house; he’s disliked by his coworkers; and, he’s cocky and willing to cover up his mistakes rather than take responsibility for them. Armed with all of this information, I go back to work and, after a few more drafts, come up with the final version of What’s Eating Xavier?
Xavier works the old Dudley house alone. The landscape crew sniggers, says its haunted. They give him the hardest jobs, the crappiest equipment. They’re just jealous – of his youth, his good looks.
He’s daydreaming of being rich, famous when the mower rams into the house’s foundation. The machine judders, its gears gnashing. The motor burns hot then dies a cold death.
Xavier curses. He finds the hole – a small, dry mouth edged with soft, crumbling teeth. He can hide it, no problem. He smiles.
Until something inside the hole unfurls its tongue and licks him.
You can see the difference in the last sentence alone. By slightly changing the words and their order, and replacing “reaches out” with “unfurls,” the ending now slides off the page and into the reader’s ear, just like that tongue.
Give it a try. Dig deep to find the kernel of your story. Hone your prose. Hunt for the best word possible.
Writing flash fiction is a challenge, but one well worth undertaking.
BIO: Madeline Mora-Summonte reads, writes, and breathes fiction in all its forms. She is the author of The People We Used to Be: A Flash Fiction Collection.