Proofing for boo-boos is easy. Line editing is tougher.
Structural editing is the toughest.
So let’s play around with a little flash fiction from Joey’s contest and see what we can do, first with a standard edit job, then with a different kind of big-picture spitballing.
Original flash fiction entry by Mayumi – 196 words
Stone stairs and the blood of Landstanders foolish enough to raise arms against him disappear beneath Fin’s boots, as every step takes him closer to the top of this tall, windowed tower, and to the girl trapped within.
“Wavewalker!” a guard warns, but he’s silenced by metal tines already streaked red; it’s the same for his partner beside. And up Fin runs, never stopping. His muscles ache, his lungs burn, but the door is just ahead, and suddenly he’s crying her name as his spear splinters the heavy wood:
He’s barely broken through when she rushes up, arms thrown around him. And though her eyes are wide and frightened, her voice drifts to him with such gentle love, like the dreamy sway of the coral among which they used to swim. “You came.”
Time is short – more Landstanders are surely already racing to reclaim their princess prize – but still he cups her face, so sea-pale and soft, and kisses her, for fear it will be the last thing he ever does.
He draws back at the taste of tears.
“There’s no way out,” she whispers.
The spear creaks in his fist. “There’s always a way.”
# # #
Of all the entries, this one had the most action, which is probably why I liked it. Other stories mostly hinted at action to come, or actions in the past.
Edits: switched to past tense instead of present, fixed various things.
Edited version – 178 words
Blood on the stone stairs disappeared beneath Fin’s boots, every step taking him closer to the top of the tower and the girl trapped within.
A guard’s shout was cut off by a blade already streaked with red. And up Fin ran, never stopping. His muscles ached, his lungs burned, but the door was just ahead, and he cried her name as he spear splintered the heavy wood.
He’d barely broken through when she rushed to throw her arms around him. Though her eyes are wide and frightened, her voice drifted to him with such gentle love, like the dreamy sway of the coral among which they used to swim.
“You came,” she said.
Time was short – more soldiers were surely racing to reclaim their princess prize – but he cupped her face, so sea-pale and soft, and kissed her despite the fear it would be the last thing he ever did.
Fin drew back at the taste of her tears.
“There’s no way out,” she whispered.
The spear creaked in his fist.
“There is always a way.”
# # #
So, a typical editing job. Nothing fancy.
I’m more interested in the guts of a piece — short story or stump speech, HBO series or Hollywood blockbuster. What’s the structure, the setups and payoffs? How do things change?
So here’s another flash fiction entry. No line editing here. Let’s look at the bones and spitball some options.
# # #
I’ll never forgot that old, mossy stone porch. Johnny and I used to lie there after the dances, enjoying the smooth coldness of the stone against our sweaty skin, and talk about what we would do with a building like this if it were our home.
“First off,” he would say, “I’d kick all these damned people out!”
He used to love to make me laugh. I thought I couldn’t live without him. We were both 17, and it seemed like the perfect life lay before us. Everything in the world was perfect, if only for a moment.
That, was of course, before the booze took hold of him.
It’s hard to believe, only a few short years later, here I stand looking at that porch, with its glorious white columns, standing tall and proud, with the fadings of Johnny’s fists on my face. Oh how life changes so cruelly.
He will wake up soon, in the E.R., and wonder how he got there. He will yell and call out my name. The nurses will not know that “Jenny” means Jessica, because they will not know that in his drunken confusion he often mistakes his mistress for his wife.
# # #
Nice. I like it. There is a difference between the beginning (Love Story by Taylor Swift) and the end (Goodbye Earl by the Dixie Chicks).
How can we pump up the story without adding Michael Bay explosions, robots fighting and Megan Fox randomly running around in short-shorts?
Most of this piece is either remembering the past or predicting the future. So my first crazy idea is to make it all present tense, because there’s instantly more tension if it’s all happening now.
Let’s strip away the pretty words and look at the bones. Boil it all the way down. Right now, the original gets down to something like, “Wife plans revenge on cheaty McCheater.”
How can we change the structure to something happening now, and make it so memorable that it gets down to a sentence that makes your jaw drop. So, let’s spitball here. (Note: theese are not the words, but story / structure / outline.)
# # #
Jessica loves Johnny SOOOO much that she wants to marry him. They’re on a picnic at this amazing stone tower. It’s romantic, and yeah, she actually bought him a gold band and might ask him tonight, if it feels right. It’s a modern world. She wants to be married, and to him. And he seems super polite and nervous today, like he maybe is thinking the same thing. Her entire life could change tonight. It’s beautiful and perfect.
She’s decided to ask him. Why not? But he beats her to the punch. “Jessica, can we talk about us?”
She says, sort of quietly, “I’d like us to be forever.” But he’s starts talking about some new job, in some other city, and some girl named Jenny who he sort of slept with.
So when he stands up to awkwardly hug her goodbye, she sort of pushes him off the tower.
# # #
Now that can boil down to “You would not BELIEVE what happened last night” headline: Woman pushes cheating lover to his doom — on night she hoped to get engaged
Homework: Take a flash fiction entry — this one or one of the others from Joey’s contest – and spitball story edits. No line editing allowed. THAT IS CHEATING.
Pump up the setups and payoffs. Boost the difference between the beginning and the end. Then get it down to a four word headline that would make people snort coffee through their nose in disbelief.
Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho
Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that was a finalist for some award.