I read a new piece of writing a minimum of three times, from three different points of view: the Reader, the Writer, and the Mechanic. A great thing about compressed fiction is that it doesn’t take long to do multiple reads. Still, flash and micro fiction offer unique challenges in that, by their very nature, changing a word or two can alter the story’s meaning. Read with a surgeon’s precision.
Before I dive into a new story, I print out a copy to mark on and make back-ups of any files. Reprinting is easier than crossing-out old comments, should I rethink anything as I come to better understand the author’s intent. Speaking of comments, have a few pieces of blank paper available for jotting down notes along the way. In addition, choose a pen whose ink color stands out from the text in the draft. It’s easier on the eyes that way. Just avoid red ink. It implies that you’re correcting errors, rather than offering assistance. Now I’m ready for some serious reading.
My first look at the story is as the Reader. The only goal at this stage is to enjoy myself. I take notice of my reactions to different points in the narrative. Where did I care? Where did my mind wander? If I mark anything at all, it’s only to underline anything I find particularly effective. I always try to read for strengths as well as weaknesses. Rare is the story that has absolutely nothing worthwhile to say about it. Once the Reader’s run-through is done, it’s time for a break to clear my mind.
Next the Writer reads for conflict, character development, structure, and dialogue—all the things I try to consider when crafting my own stories. Have the events in the story changed anyone? Is there a logical, or at least reasonable, progression from beginning to end? Did the words the characters spoke feel natural and necessary? I take detailed notes on a separate sheet of paper at this point in the process. (I also allow myself a little envy when I see a clever move or twist of phrase—I’m supportive, not a saint.)
After another break, the Mechanic reads the story aloud, listening for how the words flow in my ears. How is the pacing? I review word choice, grammar, tone, descriptions, and internal consistencies. Is there anything jarring or confusing? I mark the text right at the site where something jumps out as a problem or strikes me as dead-on brilliant. I phrase my comments as suggestions—“You may want to reconsider this POV”—or as questions, such as “Is it still the mother talking here?” These are just my opinions (as insightful as they may be). The story is the author’s creation.
Finally, I flesh-out my notes into detailed explanations and attach them separately to the marked text. While I hope the authors can use something I’ve suggested, it okay if they don’t. Writing is personal. It’s even possible that I completely misunderstood what the writers were trying to say. In that case, they may look for ways to make it clearer next time. Until then, I’ll keep trying to be a good citizen of the writing community.
About the Author
Rich Grohowski graduated from Kutztown University with degrees in English and Geography, two things for which no one wants to pay you money. So, naturally, he’s hoping to hit the big bucks in flash fiction. Along with recently finishing his Teaching Certification at Immaculata University, he is an MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction) candidate at Rosemont College. His non-fiction writing about food, culture, real estate, and interesting personal histories (pretty much anything, really) has appeared in magazines, newspapers, and even a couple of books.
For further reading, check out FlashFiction.Net’s suggested readings of flash fiction and prose poetry collections, anthologies, and craft books, by clicking here.