ABCs of Flash Writing: R is for Revision

Posted by on May 5, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on ABCs of Flash Writing: R is for Revision

Revision: A Love Story

For me, drafting a story is like running blind down a street with headlights coming at me. I pound the keys, but I can’t see what I’m doing. I feel rushed and a bit panicked to finish it up. Then I’m done and I can walk away from the blinding light to find a nice quiet place to revise. A field with butterflies and poppies and wonderfully filtered natural light. And music. Flute music. Well no, not flute music, but something celestial.

The point is, once I’m done drafting I can think straight. I can actively consider craft elements, make decisions, and shape my story. I’m in love with revision.  It’s where I get the real work of writing done.

After selecting R is for Revision for this series, I decided to list some questions I ask myself after I’ve drafted a story in the hopes that it will help you after you’ve drafted a story. I’m talking about a story that I like, one that I’m invested in and want to make better. Not all stories get to this phase, of course, which is also part of revision, deciding not to revise and instead just moving on.

Questions for me for you:

Characters – Are the characters thinking, talking, and moving around? It’s all they can do so they should be doing it in a near-simultaneous fashion, like we do in real life.

Dialogue – Are the characters talking like real people or like puppets? Are they moving while they talk or standing still with their arms at their sides like puppets? How does the dialogue read out loud? Are there contractions where there should be? Is it interesting and filled with distinct voice? Are people misunderstanding each other and not really listening to each other like in real life? Are they talking on the phone too much? Because they shouldn’t be.

Setting – Is the setting vivid and real? Does it help support what’s going on with the characters? Are there some key objects that can help nail the setting in just a couple sentences? Can an object or two be recycled later in the story to help with emotional content/context and with characterization? Have you considered weather, time of year, time of day, and what that entails?

Plot – Does the story have a plot? If so, what is it? Is it kind of lame? Does the forward action of your characters create tension or are your characters just walking around following stage directions that interest no one but you? Are your characters living in a flashback? Should that flashback be the real story?

Reversals – Have you considered having your characters do the exact opposite of what you’ve written? Sometimes this kind of reversal creates the tension you’re looking for. Is your character going up to a door, knocking on it, and not entering? If so, have the character open the door and step inside. Always go through the door. Of course, this is a metaphor for more than actual doors.

Paragraph breaks – Are your breaks working as a means of punctuation? Can you re-paragraph to give your story more meaning and clarity and zip?

Sentences – Are your sentences well written? Have you compressed them so that they have a vibrant, effective punch? Slow down, take the time to just look at how your sentence structure varies. Have you eliminated to-be verbs? What else can you eliminate or rephrase? Have you pulled your frantic draft out of the passive voice? Are your sentences helping you tell the story or dragging you down?

Reading aloud – Have you read the story aloud to your dog at least five times? Is the dog asleep or awake? But seriously, how does it sound? Is it adequate but not dynamic? Do you want to kiss the story on the lips? If it is only adequate and you don’t feel like kissing it, circle back to Characters and take another stab at this whole run through.

And finally, remember: revision takes time. If you feel stuck, give it a rest for a couple days or weeks. Sometimes coming back with fresh eyes is exactly what you need to do. Don’t be afraid to take risks. Don’t be afraid to rip the story apart and put it back together as a completely different story, but before you do that, save a backup copy in case you change your mind. 

Sherrie Flick is the author of the novel Reconsidering Happiness and the short story collection Whiskey, Etc., a Foreword INDIE best book of 2016 prize winner. She has a new collection forthcoming from Autumn House Press in Fall 2018.