Flash Fiction:
a complete story in one thousand words
or fewer.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Trimming a Slow Spot

In the FlashForum there's a section for registered users called "Critique My Flash". In it, an author provided a story about a Messenger of Death that contained the following passage:
His job at the midpoint had been about as thankless as the administrative one he’d had on Earth. On Earth, he had to direct hordes of people to counters at the Health Card office; at the midpoint, he had to split up new souls into three lines: the Good, the Not So Good, and the Bad. The Good went to Heaven, the Bad to Hell, and the rest stayed at the midpoint, where they made his life hell with their incessant questions. (“When will I go to Heaven?” “Is it my time yet?” “I won’t go Down There will I?”)
The problem with this section is that it's descriptive without really helping us get to the main plot. When I said that it could use some trimming, the author gave me permission to cut it and post the results here. This section is therefore written as if I'm speaking to him rather than to you, Dear Reader, because I'm too lazy to change the original text (and I'd mess it up if I tried).

Anyway, off we go...


Original:
His job at the midpoint had been about as thankless as the administrative one he’d had on Earth.
We need to know we're talking about his job, and we need to know that you're comparing his Earth job with his midpoint job. But do we really need to know that his Earth job was administrative? I'll say "yes" because you're trying to associate what he's doing with tedium. But we definitely don't need to have the word "administrative" (telling) and the description of the job (showing) from the next sentence.

I also think that the "had been about as thankless" is too passive. First, there's no action; second, you've passed up an opportunity to characterize him, by showing the job through his eyes.

Maybe something like this (change the characterization to suit):
He hated his midpoint job just slightly less then his Earth job.
12 words from 18, or a 33% cut.


Original:
On Earth, he had to direct hordes of people to counters at the Health Card office;
"had to direct" and the following prepositional phrase string triggered my cutting instinct. At times like this, I break up sentences into their data points to see if I can reassemble them more compactly and possibly delete some. It doesn't always work -- your aesthetic sense should be your guide, not word count -- but it's a good exercise regardless. In no particular order, you tell us: the job was on Earth, there were lots of people, he was directing them, he worked at a health card office.

First, kill "had to". It's a job, so of course he has to. :) Next, find different, stronger words. Here, if they're "hordes of people", how about "herding" them? That leaves us with this:
On Earth, he herded people to counters at the Health Card office.
12 words from 16, or 25%.


Original:
at the midpoint, he had to split up new souls into three lines: the Good, the Not So Good, and the Bad. The Good went to Heaven, the Bad to Hell, and the rest stayed at the midpoint, where they made his life hell with their incessant questions. (“When will I go to Heaven?” “Is it my time yet?” “I won’t go Down There will I?”)
This seemed to tell me something once, and then again: "First, let me define the divisions, to wit: good, not-so-good, and bad; now let me walk through these divisions, showing that the good go to heaven, the bad go to hell,..." But you don't really need to define the groups before showing where they go, because the names of the groups are already well-enough understood. Define the groups by where they go.

Cut:
at the midpoint, he guided souls into three lines: the Good went to Heaven, the Bad went to Hell, and the Not So Good stayed at the midpoint, making his life hell with their incessant questions. (“When will I go to Heaven?” “Is it my time yet?” “I won’t go Down There will I?”)
54 words from 66, 18%.


That gets us here:
He hated his midpoint job just slightly less then his Earth job. On Earth, he herded people to counters at the Health Card office. At the midpoint, he guided souls into three lines: the Good went to Heaven, the Bad went to Hell, and the Not So Good stayed at the midpoint, making his life hell with their incessant questions. (“When will I go to Heaven?” “Is it my time yet?” “I won’t go Down There will I?”)
This is an iterative process, so I'd take a last crack at the first two sentences, which sound a little clunky to me, to get this:
He hated his midpoint job just slightly less then his old job on Earth, where he had herded people to counters at the Health Card office. At the midpoint, he guided souls into three lines: the Good went to Heaven, the Bad went to Hell, and the Not So Good stayed at the midpoint, making his life hell with their incessant questions. (“When will I go to Heaven?” “Is it my time yet?” “I won’t go Down There will I?”)
This version is 80 words, a 20% cut from the conveniently sized original 100 words, and, more importantly, it streamlines the text while adding characterization and without changing the voice.

What do you think?

Labels: ,

1 Comments:

Blogger Astrobird said...

I have been exploring FFO since stumbling across it about a week ago, but have just found this blog.
It is magnificent! You have provided wonderful way for us to learn.
Thank you for all the time you obviously spend here - I for one intend to make good use of this.

Astrobird

7/11/2008 10:01 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

Copyright (c) 2007-2009 Flash Fiction Online
and the authors of the individual stories and articles.
All Rights Reserved.
Email the Webmaster with questions or comments about this site.
For other contact information visit our contact page.

View My Stats