Archive for April, 2009

Flash Fiction

Monday, April 27th, 2009

flash1Short-short stories, or flash fiction, provide the entertainment of short stories in a fraction of the time. “Flash fiction” usually refers to stories that are less than 1,000 words long. The flash fiction genre is popular among the literary magazine set and is  ideal for new authors hoping to break into publishing. However, flash fiction can be difficult, because magazines only publish short-shorts with well-developed plots and significant character development. Authors must make the most of very few words.

What follows is an unedited piece of flash fiction. Below the unedited version is my edit of the same text. My editorial comments are at the bottom of this post.

Sondrine waited for her turn at the soldering iron. She shifted her weight from one foot to another, because she couldn’t wait to see how her ring looked when she had completely finished making it. She was taking a jewelry making class at the local community college, and her big project was to make a ring. Last month, their instructor had told them all how to plan their design and how to think about ways of making their rings look good. Sondrine had spent a long time in her quiet study, thinking about the ring she would make. It needed to have just the right heave—the amount of weight that would make her notice the ring when she lifted her hand to select a can off the grocery store shelf or opened her—usually empty—mailbox in the morning. She had drawn a diagram of her ring, and it was in her pocket now.

“Are you done yet?” Sondrine asked Chelsea, who was huddled over the soldering iron. “We have to leave soon.” Sondrine looked again at the clock—8:37.

“I know class ends at 9:00,” Chelsea said, as though Sondrine had been just about to remind her—as if she would, Chelsea could be so annoying sometimes. Chelsea looked over her shoulder—furtively, it seemed to Sondrine. Sondrine tried to look over Chelsea’s shoulder to see what she was making.

“Class, you have five minutes until it’s time to put everything away until next time,” the instructor, Maxwell, intoned.

Sondrine clutched her metal wire, itching to get her hands on the soldering iron. Chelsea continued to use the soldering iron, humming away contentedly as she worked. Sondrine cleared her throat. “I know. I know,” said Chelsea. “I’m hurrying.”

Maxwell had begun to shut off the lights in the back storage area, where the students stored their unfinished work.

Sondrine looked longingly at the soldering iron. Just then, Chelsea stood up and snapped her chewing gum. “I’m done,” she said. She held a ring between her thumb and index finger.

“OK. That’s it until next week,” Maxwell said. He walked up to the soldering iron and shut it off with a resounding click. Chelsea smiled at Sondrine phonily.

“Well, there’s always next week,” she said. Chelsea set her ring carefully on the table and bent down to pick up her purse from the floor.

In the instant when Chelsea’s head was out of sight, Sondrine caught sight of Chelsea’s ring. It was perfect—everything that Sondrine had imagined her ring would be. Had Chelsea copied Sondrine’s diagram? But no, Sondrine hadn’t shown her ring diagram to anyone, and there it was—still folded in her hand. But the ring had everything Sondrine had imagined for her ring. There were the braids of gold, the interlocking whorls of silver, and the smooth curves that formed a central band. It was just as Sondrine had planned her ring. The whorls Sondrine had imagined weren’t quite so intricate, and she hadn’t actually put the braiding or the smooth part in her drawing, but it was the same ring—exactly the same, except without the dragon’s head Sondrine had drawn. She was filled with a strong sense of jealousy. Why should Chelsea have Sondrine’s ring? She had taken up all the soldering time and had—somehow—copied Sondrine’s design.

Chelsea straightened up and looked over her shoulder to shout goodbye to Maxwell. Sondrine grabbed the ring—her ring—still warm from the soldering iron. It fit her perfectly, and she admired her finger for a moment. “See you next week!” Chelsea called. Sondrine quickly put her purse over her shoulder. The ring had just the right heft, as she had known it would when she raised her hand to her purse strap. She pushed open the door and walked outside.

She wouldn’t be back next week.

The final story reads something like the following:

Sondrine waited for her turn at the soldering iron, shifting her weight from one foot to another. She couldn’t wait to see how her ring looked once she had finished it. She was taking a jewelry-making class at the local community college, and her final project was to make a ring. Last month, their instructor, Maxwell, had taught them how to plan their ring designs. Sondrine had thought a long time about the ring she would make. It needed to have just the right heft—a weight that would make her notice the ring when she lifted her hand to select a can off the grocery store shelf or opened her—usually empty—mailbox in the morning. She had drawn a diagram of her ring, and it was in her pocket now.

“Are you done yet?” Sondrine asked Chelsea, who was huddled over the soldering iron. “We have to leave soon.” Sondrine looked again at the clock—8:37.

“I know what time class ends,” Chelsea said, as though Sondrine had been just about to remind her. Sondrine tried to look at Chelsea’s ring. Chelsea looked back at Sondrine over her shoulder—furtively, it seemed.

“Class, you have five minutes until it’s time to put everything away,” Maxwell said. He began to shut off the lights in the back area, where the students stored their unfinished work.

Sondrine clutched her metal wire, itching to get her hands on the soldering iron. She cleared her throat. “I know. I know,” said Chelsea. “I’m hurrying.”

Just then, Chelsea stood up and snapped her chewing gum. “I’m done,” she said. She held a ring between her thumb and index finger.

“OK. That’s it until next week,” Maxwell said. He walked up to the soldering iron and shut it off with a resounding click.

Chelsea smiled artifically at Sondrine. “Well, there’s always next week.” She set her ring carefully on the table and bent down to pick up her purse from the floor.

When Chelsea’s head dipped below the table, Sondrine caught sight of Chelsea’s ring. It was perfect—everything that Sondrine had imagined her ring would be. There were the braids of gold, the interlocking whorls of silver, and the smooth curves that formed a central band. It was the very ring Sondrine had designed. The whorls Sondrine had imagined weren’t quite so intricate, and she hadn’t actually put the braiding or the smooth part in her drawing, but it was the same ring—exactly the same, except without the dragon’s head Sondrine had drawn. Had Chelsea copied Sondrine’s diagram? But no, Sondrine hadn’t shown her ring diagram to anyone, and there it was—still folded in her pocket. She was filled with jealousy. Why should Chelsea have her ring? Chelsea had taken up all the soldering time and had—somehow—copied Sondrine’s design.

Chelsea straightened up and looked over her shoulder to shout goodbye to Maxwell. Sondrine grabbed the ring—her ring—still warm from the soldering iron. It fit her perfectly, and she admired her finger for a moment. “See you next week!” Chelsea called, still looking at Maxwell. Sondrine quickly put her purse over her shoulder. The ring had just the right heft, as she had known it would when she raised her hand to her purse strap. She pushed open the door and walked outside.

She wouldn’t be back next week.

Below is the text with my editing marks. My comments to the author are in brackets and italicized. The portions I cut appear with a strike-through, and the portions I added are underlined. (In a normal Word document with “Track Changes,” my editing marks are in red, and my comments are in their own separate section, not inserted into the text.):

Sondrine waited for her turn at the soldering iron, shifting . She shifted her weight from one foot to another., because sShe couldn’t wait to see how her ring looked oncewhen she had completely finished making it. She was taking a jewelrymaking class at the local community college, and her big final project was to make a ring. Last month, their instructor, Maxwell, had told taught them all how to plan their ring designs and how to think about ways of making their rings look good. [In its original form, this sentence makes it sound like Maxwell gave them some ring design ideas. For your story, I think you want to make clear that each student makes his or her own design. This is a good place to introduce Maxwell’s name.] Sondrine had spent a long time in her quiet study, thinking thought a long time about the ring she would make. It needed to have just the right heaveheftthe amount of a weight that would make her notice the ring when she lifted her hand to select a can off the grocery store shelf or opened her—usually empty—mailbox in the morning. She had drawn a diagram of her ring, and it was in her pocket now.

“Are you done yet?” Sondrine asked Chelsea, who was huddled over the soldering iron. “We have to leave soon.” Sondrine looked again at the clock—8:37.

“I know what time class ends at 9:00,” Chelsea said, as though Sondrine had been just about to remind her—as if she would, Chelsea could be so annoying sometimes. [It doesn’t seem like Chelsea would actually mention the class ending time, since both she and Sondrine know it.] Sondrine tried to look at Chelsea’s ring. Chelsea looked back at Sondrine over her shoulder—furtively, it seemed to Sondrine. Sondrine tried to look over Chelsea’s shoulder to see what she was making.[The two mentions of Chelsea’s shoulder tend to get confusing, and switching the two sentences around seems to work better.]

“Class, you have five minutes until it’s time to put everything away until next time,” the instructor, Maxwell, intoned said. [“Said” is sufficient.] He began to shut off the lights in the back area, where the students stored their unfinished work. [I put both mentions of Maxwell together in one place.]

Sondrine clutched her metal wire, itching to get her hands on the soldering iron. Chelsea continued to use the soldering iron, humming away contentedly as she worked. Sondrine She cleared her throat. “I know. I know,” said Chelsea. “I’m hurrying.”

Maxwell had begun to shut off the lights in the back storage area, where the students stored their unfinished work.

Sondrine looked longingly at the soldering iron. Just then, Chelsea stood up and snapped her chewing gum. “I’m done,” she said. She held a ring between her thumb and index finger. [Cutting back and forth between Sondrine and Maxwell tends to undercut the tension of the story. I’ve tried to tightened up the action here.]

“OK. That’s it until next week,” Maxwell said. He walked up to the soldering iron and shut it off with a resounding click. Chelsea smiled at Sondrine phonily.

Chelsea smiled artifically at Sondrine. [I don’t think “phonily” is a word.] “Well, there’s always next week.,Sshe said. Chelsea set her ring carefully on the table and bent down to pick up her purse from the floor.

In the instant Wwhen Chelsea’s head was out of sightdipped below the table,[I’m trying to keep you from using “sight” twice in one sentence.] Sondrine caught sight of Chelsea’s ring. It was perfect—everything that Sondrine had imagined her ring would be. Had Chelsea copied Sondrine’s diagram? But no, Sondrine hadn’t shown her ring diagram to anyone, and there it was—still folded in her hand. But the ring had everything Sondrine had imagined for her ring. There were the braids of gold, the interlocking whorls of silver, and the smooth curves that formed a central band. It was just as Sondrine had planned her ringthe very ring Sondrine had designed. The whorls Sondrine had imagined weren’t quite so intricate, and she hadn’t actually put the braiding or the smooth part in her drawing, but it was the same ring—exactly the same, except without the dragon’s head Sondrine had drawn. Had Chelsea copied Sondrine’s diagram? But no, Sondrine hadn’t shown her ring diagram to anyone, and there it was—still folded in her hand pocket. She was filled with a strong sense of jealousy. Why should Chelsea have herSondrine’s ring? She Chelsea had taken up all the soldering time and had—somehow—copied Sondrine’s design. Chelsea straightened up and looked over her shoulder to shout goodbye to Maxwell. Sondrine grabbed the ring—her ring—still warm from the soldering iron. It fit her perfectly, and she admired her finger for a moment. “See you next week!” Chelsea called, still looking at Maxwell. Sondrine quickly put her purse over her shoulder. The ring had just the right heft, as she had known it would when she raised her hand to her purse strap.[What about, “as she had known it would when she designed it”?] She pushed open the door and walked outside.

She wouldn’t be back next week.

[For very good listings of magazine publishers—including those who publish flash fiction—visit Duotrope’s Digest.]

[Please post your comments about this Sample Edit. To submit your own work for a free edit–and inclusion in a posting on this blog–please write to me at jane@beaumonthardy.com.]

The Who/That Distinction

Monday, April 20th, 2009

peoniesSome editorial fixes are quick but can make an enormous difference in writing quality. For example, writers can immediately improve their work by maintaining the distinction between “who” and “that.” The distinction is really very straightforward: use “who” when describing a person, and use “that” when describing an object or a place.

Here are some examples:

She’s the girl who lent me her biology book.

I don’t know anyone who liked that movie.

Aren’t you the one who told us to come here?

I’d like to interview a woman who has climbed Mount Everest.

This is a story that I think you’ll like.

It’s an club that I would rather not join.

San Francisco is a city that most people love.

Cauliflower is a vegetable that I eat all the time.

He’s the boy who brought the toy that squeaks.

[Please post your thoughts or comments about “who” and “that.” To submit your own work for a free edit–and inclusion in a posting on this blog–please write to me at jane@beaumonthardy.com.]

Dialogue Alone

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

leavesAaron Petrovich has written a fascinating novella, The Session, in which he tells an entire story through dialogue. Much of the book is a conversation between two police detectives, but another character joins the exchange in the middle of the story. Solely through dialogue, Petrovich differentiates between characters, establishes plot and narrative and creates compelling tension.

The following is the unedited version of a story told almost completely through dialogue. Below the unedited version is my edit of the same text. My editorial comments are at the bottom of this post.

“Do we have any more of that wine?”
“What wine—the white one?”
“No, the red. The Chianti. The one that the Thompsons brought over when we had dinner the other night.”
“Which one? I don’t remember that one.”
“You know, the one that the Thompsons brought over.”
“Oh, that one. Yeah, that one was pretty good.”
“Yeah, it was.”
“Here you go. Do you want any cheese?”
“No. No cheese. But could you pass me the map?”
“Yeah. Here you go. I think I’ll have some cheese. So what do you think about the bank robbery? Where should we enter the building?”
“Well, I think this back door might be the way to go.”
“Did you talk to Lenny? Did he get the crowbars?”
“Yeah, he got them.”
“I think we need to be careful about the outdoor security light. It’s not on this diagram, but we know it’s there. If we don’t manage to shut it off, we’ll be pretty visible when we break in.”
“What kinds of things do they have in the bank? Will we be rich when it’s all over?”
“Well, we have to find the safety deposit boxes. That’s where all the valuable things are.”
“OK. Well, let’s start planning.”

The final edited passage reads something like the following.

“Do we have any more of that wine?”
“What wine—the white one?”
“No, the red. The Chianti. The one the Thompsons brought over when we had dinner the other night.”
“Here you go. Do you want any cheese?”
“No. No cheese. But could you pass me the map?”
“Yeah, so what do you think about the plan? Where should we enter the building?”
“Well, I think this back door might be the way to go.”
“Did you talk to Lenny? Did he get the crowbars?”
“Yeah, he got them.”
“I think we need to be careful about the outdoor security light. It’s not on this diagram, but we know it’s there. If we don’t manage to shut it off, we’ll be pretty visible when we go in.”
“So do you think we’ll be rich when it’s all over?”
“Well, we have to find the safety deposit boxes. That’s where all the valuable things are.”
“OK. Well, let’s start planning.”

Below is the text with my editing marks. My comments to the author are in brackets and italicized. The portions I cut appear with a strike-through, and the portions I added are underlined. (In a normal Word document with “Track Changes,” my editing marks are in red, and my comments are in their own separate section, not inserted into the text.)

“Do we have any more of that wine?”
“What wine—the white one?”
“No, the red. The Chianti. The one that the Thompsons brought over when we had dinner the other night.”
“Which one? I don’t remember that one.”
“You know, the one that the Thompsons brought over.”
“Oh, that one. Yeah, that one was pretty good.”
“Yeah, it was.”
[Although this back-and-forth dialogue might be realistic, it doesn’t contribute to the plot. In this case, it might be better to sacrifice some realism in order to keep the action moving. Too much dialogue with little plot movement can also get confusing; the reader might forget which character is speaking.]
“Here you go. Do you want any cheese?”
“No. No cheese. But could you pass me the map?”
“Yeah,. Here you go.[Even though this character might say, “Here you go” twice in real life, I think it’s better to vary his/her comments in this exchange.] I think I’ll have some cheese. [Once again, I think this sentence can go, in order to keep the plot moving.] sSo what do you think about the planbank robbery? [Presumably, both characters know that they are talking about a bank robbery, so it seems unlikely that they would actually refer to it as such. The reader might not yet know what the plan is, but the nature of the plan will become clear soon enough.] Where should we enter the building?”
“Well, I think this back door might be the way to go.”
“Did you talk to Lenny? Did he get the crowbars?”
“Yeah, he got them.”
“I think we need to be careful about the outdoor security light. It’s not on this diagram, but we know it’s there. If we don’t manage to shut it off, we’ll be pretty visible when we break in.” [The identity of this speaker is unclear. So far, it has seemed like the first speaker (the one who says, “Do we have any more of that wine?”)  is the leader of the two. Now, it seems as though the second speaker (the one who says, “What wine–the white one?”) has taken over the leadership role. Is the second speaker making this comment about the security light? Why is the document now a diagram? It was a map, above.]
What kinds of things do they have in the bank? Will we So do you think we’ll be rich when it’s all over?” [Once again, who is speaking here? This seems more like the second speaker (the one who says, “What wine–the white one?”), but the comment’s position makes it seem like it belongs to the first speaker. I shortened this comment, because it seems as though these two would have already discussed what they will find in the bank.]
“Well, we have to find the safety deposit boxes. That’s where all the valuable things are.”
“OK. Well, let’s start planning.” [Haven’t they already started planning?]

As in Petrovich’s novella, straight dialogue can make for compelling reading, as long as the conversation really moves the plot along and as long as the reader is able to distinguish between the characters.

[Please post your comments about this Sample Edit. To submit your own work for a free edit–and inclusion in a posting on this blog–please write to me at jane@beaumonthardy.com.]