Where’s the Beef? The Art of the Edit – Flash Fiction

The Hay Copy, with Lincoln's handwritten corre...

The Hay Copy, with Lincoln’s handwritten corrections (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was a kid (that’s what we called each other – none of us was a “child”) I read everything I could get my hands on, including spending my whopping 25 cent allowance on comic books, an original form of flash (or very brief) fiction – with pictures.  Great for kids who wanted to get to the heart of the story.

In an early assignment at my Writers’ Group, the leader challenged us to write a ‘flash fiction‘ piece, a story in 600 words or less.  My first version of the story was 1,000 words.  I cut and cut to get it down to 800 and finally to 600 words.  Then I found a contest at the on-line journal, Persimmon Tree, that called for a flash fiction of 500 words. So I thought I’d try it. Cutting the story from 600 down to 500 words felt absolutely brutal. It would reduce the original story by half. When I got down to the last 20 words I was sure that cutting each remaining word would render the story incomprehensible.  Wrong.  Not only did this action truly reduce the story down to the palpable beating of its heart, it made it crystal clear.  It made me focus on what made up the critical elements of the story.  What could I cut and still retain not only the core of the story, but still give the story texture.  What was necessary to flesh out the characters so they remained plausible as real people, and what could be cut without turning them cartoonish or one dimensional. Probably the best part of rendering the story as flash fiction was the learning experience I got from doing it.  The reward was I submitted the story, the first one I ever sent to a contest, and it was one of ten selected for publication. What a super moment for my supercharged, high-speed Flash!  (Though if I am honest I probably like the story best at about 550 words.)

So this is just a suggestion that editing something down to its essentials and pushing to cut more and more is a way of learning to refocus on the critical elements of your story or anyone else’s.  At the writing workshop I mentioned in my last post on biopoems, the group editing exercise was to take the 286 word version of the Gettysburg Address and rewrite it in 50 words.  Again a great learning experience in doing it and in listening to the other groups’ versions to see what they viewed as essential and what could be removed and still leave the primary message intact.  So whether you have a relatively short story (1000) words or less or if you want to try by using Lincoln’s speech I commend to you the task of cutting it in half to see what you learn.  Test out the blade of your editing knife and act with care. You don’t want your readers to question as they did in the iconic tv ad, “Where’s the Beef?” So leave the Sirloin – ditch the fat. Trim and trim till you have a superstar.  Go Flash, Go!   (My ‘filet’ below.)

The Georgia Peaches   by Joanne Eddy

Exactly when the LeDane twins became the Pearl Mestas of Paradise Falls was not remembered. They were just thirteen when they moved from Savannah but now nothing happened without the ‘Georgia Peaches’.  After their eightieth birthday, the new preacher thought they should retire from organizing everything.  But Leanne LeDane remained firmly in charge; whomever he appointed asked for her help.

Miss Lea, as she was lovingly called, would then call her ‘Stalwarts’ to cook for the Soup and Salad Supper or the ‘Reliables’, a more select few, to churn the ice cream or bring the barbeque. Once there she sat off to the side with lady-like propriety while everyone was drawn to her as if she were holding court.

Louella remained at the periphery of her sister’s limelight quietly making acerbic quips to keep Lea humble. If people bothered to meet Lou, just plain Lou, thank you kindly, she appeared the polar opposite of her sister though they were identical twins. Only a discerning soul saw that Lou was not merely drawn along in Lee’s magnetic wake but was an equal if silent partner.

A fashion plate of a bygone era, Miss Lea was partial to soft colors, accompaniments to her rosy cheeks, dove grey hair and sky blue eyes.  Barely five feet tall in her elegant heels and slightly plump, she conveyed a sense of softness inconsistent with directing anything.  Hardly anyone listened when Lou commented, “A peach is soft on the outside but you can break a tooth on the pit if you bite down too deep.” Few looked beneath Lee’s charm to the steel in her spine.

Lou made no apologies to fashion. Thin and awkward in spectacular colors randomly thrown together, Louella looked like an unmade bed, her steely grey hair cut in what might be charitably called bohemian style, if it could be said to have any style. Despite her place in her sister’s shadow, her striking yet odd appearance begged for attention but those noticing concluded she did not merit any, a foolish miscalculation.

Of course, as spinsters, the ‘peaches’ had never been picked. Certainly Leanne was the belle of all her debutante balls but Louella never had callers.  That Lou was single surprised no one, but that Ms. Lea had never wed could not be fathomed. This lapse in male judgment was the accepted wisdom until Pastor Ellis announced Louella was getting married first thing in the morning! Everyone was invited.

The shock lasted until the service was over. Then the tongues began to wag.  Miss Lee silenced critics with gracious invitations to help with the reception.  Lou‘s retorts, “At eighty there‘s no time to wait,” and “Don’t bring presents, he’s getting me,” gave no clues to who ‘he‘ was.

The next morning everyone came.  They ‘oohed’ at Ms. Lee’s pink chiffon, ‘ah ha-ed‘ at Lou’s fuchsia suit, and gasped when Mayor Barnes, Paradise Falls’ most eligible widower, walked in, grasped Lou‘s hand and said, “Yessiree, a ripe peach is worth waiting for!”

About joanneeddy

Writer living in North Carolina. Originally from upstate New York. I love my family, my community, and my friends, and embrace 'living deliberately' in the world, trying to make a difference. I have written an as yet unpublished book, The Call, an epic fantasy with historical fiction and folklore elements. My blog is for other writers, for those who love a good read, and for all who, like me, are looking to find and live their call.
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