I’ve talked about this before. Those addicting flash fiction contests run by Janet Reid, literary agent extraordinaire. How hard is it to tell a story in one hundred words? Doggone hard. The last one, a couple weekends ago, was in honor of one of her clients, Jeff Somers, for the publication of his latest book, WE ARE NOT GOOD PEOPLE.
The rules are simple. She will provide five prompt words, usually something to do with the reason for having the contest. When using those five words, we can have a bit of leeway. As long as the word is part of a larger word and appears “in whole” that’s okay. The word “like” is okay as “likeness,” or likeability, but not lickety-split. See? And we, (we being the collective group who follow her blog religiously) are to write a story using those five prompt words, in one hundred words, or less.
When I wrote about this the last time, I think I mentioned what good practice these flash contests are at learning how to make your writing more crisp. To learn how to eliminate useless words – or maybe words that aren’t necessary to the meaning of the story. The overall process isn’t that far from how I write in general (Pantster that I am). That’s sort of scary when I think about it. Anyway, what I mean is, I begin to write – something – with no idea where it’s going. Eventually, an idea sticks. Sometimes, I end up with more than one version, and then I have to choose which one I like better.
That’s what happened in this last one.
Here are the five prompt words we had to use:
Here is Version One:
Preacher Dan lifted the bottle of tonic and proclaimed its potency.
“Drink it!” he caterwauled, “your spirits will be lifted, what ails you will be gone!”
The crowd eyed the concoction doubtfully.
“It’s black magic!” some yelled, “prove it!” yelled others.
He hitched up his pants before reaching down to lift a venomous snake, antagonizing the serpent by waving a hand at its face.
Preacher Dan showed them his hand, “Not a drop of blood!” and coins fell like rain into the little collection basket.
Hours later he counted the money one handed, his prosthesis resting beside him.
And, Version Two:
Sunday, under a big tent, Preacher Dan was busy cleansing spirits, urging followers to drink the blood of Christ. His gospel invoked speaking in tongues, a yielding of souls, complete and utter faith.
Doubters whispered, “Its black magic!”
He adjusted his ill-fitting pants, lifted a venomous snake in one hand while waving the other in its face.
He stood firm, unwavering, and caterwauled, “A miracle! A message from God himself! “
Believers now, the crowd surged forward, coins raining into his little collection basket.
Only when he headed to the next town, would he remove the prosthetic hand.
I had to choose one for the contest, and honestly, it was kind of tough, because I liked both equally. However…, the version I chose was a semi-finalist out of ninety entries, and that was Version Two.
If I’d chosen Version One, what could have happened? Same placement? Or not? This is why writers are torn over their words, why we shuffle them around ad nauseum, telling a similar story, yet different This is why when we say, “it’s done,” we know it’s never really done, is it?