Flash Memoir: Finishing Your Work

Three months ago I began a series of “writing workshop” posts here on Flash Memoir. Today that series comes to an end with my thoughts on the revision that gives your essay its final form.

If you’ve followed this post series, I hope you’ve been producing new writing, rough drafts that now await your red editor’s pen. If so, I hope these suggestions help you find where to prune and shape these pieces so that, like topiary, they take on a pleasing form while remaining small, true to the Flash genre.

In your first revision pass, pay specific attention to your beginnings and endings.

A great beginning will have something about it that hooks your readers. It will surprise, puzzle, or shock in some way that creates tension. It will compel readers to root for you through the rest of the story. In a Flash Memoir, you have to accomplish that in just a sentence or two.

A great ending will resolve the tension introduced in the opening for a nice mini-version of the “bookends” technique that connects the ending back to the beginning. It will maintain the pace of the story’s beginning and middle. It will leave the reader wanting more.

Something in your first few sentences will make a promise that is delivered on in at the end. Think about how, in “Balloons Are for Kids,” a sentence that begins the second paragraph is mirrored at the end.

“I boarded my city bus for home, thinking about the balloon’s fate….”

“I don’t know how long the balloon lasted. I never saw the girl again, but I’ve thought of her often….”

Really think about the moment where your story begins and ends. Every fairy tale starts with “Once upon a time.” Somehow that story has settled on where it begins. Not two weeks before, not a half hour before. Sometimes it takes a lot of revising to find the right place to start a story from. Flash Memoir will always have a real sense of starting just as the action of the story gets going, and ending as soon as the action ends.

First drafts often begin unintentionally with “throat-clearing,” a warm-up of your writing mind. How much of what is in your first paragraph is essential to the reader’s understanding of the action? If you delete it, is the story stronger?

Likewise, many essays can be improved by removing musing at the end, trusting the reader to do that musing instead. Does your story end still grounded in object writing? Try lopping off anything you’ve written after the final concrete and observable action. Internal action, as in “Balloons Are for Kids” where Kay wonders if the child remembers her, is acceptable as action in this sense.

For more thoughts on revising your work, see this post: “More on revising your work: Jean Krieg and Sarah White talk writing craft.”

And that concludes the “Flash Memoir” series. Post your comments here, and review the four posts any time you’d like to work on writing short, powerful, reminiscence essays!

About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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