ABCs of Flash Writing: E is for Editing

Posted by on Apr 22, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on ABCs of Flash Writing: E is for Editing

Color Me Changed: E is for Editing

My flash fiction often gets birthed in quite a close approximation to the final product sometimes accepted for publication, sometimes not. Much of what I write does undergo some extensive surgery under the highlighting scalpel. I always feel closer to a finished product when I can see the changes in front of me and witness the edited material fallen to the floor.

For this to happen I use a technique I began using in my high school teaching last year. I was looking for a way to show my students the way an essay should connect from paragraph to paragraph, and found color coding their essays to be quite effective. I’d use one highlight color for thesis and conclusion, one color for textual evidence, and one color for commentary. When finished the pattern of colors allowed students to see whether they’d adequately linked all parts of their essays together to form a fully-synthesized whole. They marveled at how they could track their content using colors, and lightbulbs went off in ways I’d not seen much before.

I adapted the color coding to the editing of my flash fiction, choosing three colors: yellow, pink, and green to represent verbs, nouns, and sentence length in my first drafts. I admitted long ago to not being synesthetic, falling instead into the spectrum of “ordinary” writers condemned to manufacture color and meaning through only words. How I yearned to “see” my words blaze in front of my eyes, but to no avail. Yet, using colors to identify key components of my flash allowed me to strengthen the content and punch of my writing.

With a glance, I could look at a page and see the verbs yellowed and easily checked for their power. For years I’ve heard the mantra, “strong verbs make for strong writing,” and seeing the verbs pop off the page let me single them out for individual attention, tweaking the “he walked” into something different and perhaps surprising.

What really helped was the green swaths of sentences that sometimes varied not at all. I mean, I got it, intellectually; I knew varying my sentence lengths created a livelier piece of writing. Recently, I was reminded of this when I had a class mark-up a couple of passages in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, to illustrate to my students the manner in which the best writers employ a variety of sentence lengths for various purposes. For my own writing I knew I over-relied on sentences of a certain length, not bothering to change it up, and alter the flow of my writing. Seeing the blocks of bright green on the drafts let me understand the balance of my writing in a way I don’t think I was able to see previously.

Of course, I knew none of this was my own invention, and was reminded of this the other day when I leafed through a facsimile of James Joyce’s Ulysses. The manuscript pages Joyce marked up are heavily slashed in colorful crayon, bearing some little similarity to my students’ essays, and my own flash fiction drafts. Joyce utilized the colored pencils and crayons because of his deteriorating eyesight, the colors popping off the page even more because of the white work coat he so often wore. My own eyesight is not 20/20, and I’m no Joyce, yet I see the value in adding color to the writer’s toolbox of tricks.

So, to add spark and verve to your language and sentence structure, invest in some bright highlighters and get marking that text!

James Claffey hails from County Westmeath, Ireland, and lives on an avocado ranch in Carpinteria, CA. His work appears in the W.W. Norton Anthology, Flash Fiction International, and in Queen’s Ferry Press’s anthology, Best Small Fictions of 2015. He was a finalist in the Best Small Fictions of 2016, and a semi-finalist in 2017. His novel, The Heart Crossways, will be published in early-2018 by Thrice Publishing.


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