I was looking through some old files yesterday when I came across a few notes written for a piece of flash fiction. Notes for a piece of flash fiction might seem like a redundant exercise. Flash fiction is so short, so condensed that notes may very quickly end up longer than the finished piece. But that isn’t necessarily a problem or a waste. The tightness required of very short fiction is such that, in theory at least, every word must serve a purpose. Having a bigger picture in your head and ensuring the writing encapsulates that picture as pithily as possible is no bad thing.
With that in mind I dug out the finished piece. ‘Gaslight’ was published a couple of years ago in ‘The Tall and the Short’ an anthology of short fiction, excerpts from longer pieces and poems, by various authors.
When I looked at it again I realised that I had probably cheated. There was a requirement to keep the piece under a thousand words and I had achieved that aim. I wondered at the ending however. The reader is left hanging – appalling pun, as the piece turns on something or someone dangling at the end of a rope. As I read it again I put myself in the place of the reader. The editor had expressed doubts about the ending but I was adamant. I think I was fed up with it and I can see why from my notes. It started out as 262 very tight words from notes at least four times that long. There was a feeling that 262 words was however too short and that elements needed more explanation or better setting so it ballooned to 996. The reverse of how I like writing to go – splurge it down and then refine, although I have mentioned ad infinitum my dislike of redrafting/rewriting. Much worse to expand however, than cut. Having said that, my problem is that expanded from the original size though it may be the poor reader still has no consummation with this piece. They don’t know what happens to the protagonist or what the object of his peril really is, whether there really is any peril even. I know of course but I should perhaps at least have hinted. I still like the idea of open ended stories, particularly horror genre pieces, but I still feel a twinge of guilt at how open this piece ends.
I would alter it I think if I were to write it again from scratch. I am even tempted to expand it a little to ‘finish’ the story but that risks the ending being twee and too cosy. If anything I think I’d like to leave more possibilities of awfulness in the readers mind. I am even tempted to go back to the 262 word version, make it 300 words and leave it at that.
Of course I won’t bother. I don’t think.
The piece is published. Anything except a major rewrite into a full short story is going to end up like all those ‘Director’s cuts’ in films that end up much worse than the original. Other, much better known, authors have of course gone back and altered books, usually not for the better. Stephen King rewrote and reinstated about 400 pages of cuts in ‘The Stand’. General critical opinion is that the editor did a great job on the first edition and there was good reason to lose those 400 pages. Four hundred! That’s chutzpah all right, putting back in 400 pages of extraneous fluff. When I get as famous as King maybe I’ll come back and tweak the ending. I doubt it would be 400 words, let alone 400 pages.