Yesterday a flash fiction story of mine, Watching, was published in an online magazine called Six Sentences. Trying to tell a story in six sentences is enlightening because the writing process is compressed, making it easy to see what you’re doing and why.
My 6-sentence story began its life two years ago.
In The Story Behind the Story, Stephen Dobyns writes that he asked Raymond Carver how he wrote a particular story. “He [Carver] said the first sentence had come into his mind and he just followed it.” Dobyns explains that he usually outlines his novels and knows generally what’s going to happen and how it’s going to end. So Dobyns was intrigued by Carver’s method of letting the writing itself be “a process of discovery.”
Shortly thereafter, Dobyns, in one sitting, wrote “sixty potential first sentences.”
“[I] went through them again, forcing each into a paragraph. Some went nowhere. Still, after two more hours I had forty paragraphs.”
He extended each paragraph to one page, ending up with about 35 one-page beginnings.
“After about a month, I had twenty stories….I worked on the stories for six or seven years…and ended with fifteen, which appeared in my book Eating Naked.”
Two years ago, a friend and I decided to write a story a week for ten weeks, acknowledging that we would only be producing rough drafts. Life intervened for her, but I completed the exercise, which I began by trying to generate as many first sentences as I could, a la Dobyns. One of those attempts, which turned itself into 3 sentences, but did not make it any further, was the beginning of “Watching.”
My little six-sentence story took 16 drafts. By the 2nd draft, most of the details and all but one of the characters were present. In the 8th draft, I discovered what the story was about and then moved the sentence about the mother from the middle of the story to the end. In the 11th draft, the title appeared, giving a nod to the narrator as well as to what the characters were either doing or avoiding. The rest of the drafts involved figuring out the mother’s story, deleting unnecessary details and words, and changing repetitive words.In the 15th draft, I added the phrase, “hung her head ” to the mother to link the way she felt to the way her son felt.
Still, when I saw it in print yesterday, I wanted to revise again. I wasn’t happy with the word actually. And we’re talking six sentences!
By the way, of those ten stories, three I haven’t done anything with yet, three I’m actively working on, and four are finished. Of those four, one became the marry tales posted on this blog, the doors between and the kitten; one I’m currently sending out, one will be published in the fall, and one is already published, “Frosting.”