Double-Down: Boost your Impact with Targeted Prose

Recently, I signed up to read at a local Hampton Roads Writers “Show and Grow” event, where writers can read their work in front of an audience and receive brief critiques afterward from a 2-person panel of professionals. I’d done it once before, years ago, and got a lot out of it. This time it was even better. The piece I read was my first-ever attempt at flash fiction and, according to one of the panelists, I’d hit the mark overall. Still, they gifted me with a lot of good feedback, including one tip I want to share with you today.

We’ve talked before about making every word count. But in flash, where word count is strictly limited and often quite small, that rule is a must. In fact, one of my critiquers pointed out that I could—and should—take every opportunity to make my words do double-duty. Let me explain.

My short piece (“That Shining Moment,” 583 words) is about gun violence. How much more potent an impact might the story have if I used verbs that further that theme? For example, instead of

“Life’s river carried me elsewhere, but a child’s laugh brings me joy still”

the sentence could read:

“Life’s trajectory carried me elsewhere, but a child’s laugh still triggers joy in me.”

Other opportunities:

• “aimed” instead of “herded”
• “downrange” instead of “growing faint”
• “bolt” instead of “run”
• “barrel” instead of “race”

It was a lightbulb moment for me, that single suggestion in my critique. I don’t know why I never thought of it before (duh), but now that I’ve revised the story I can see the difference it makes. All my other unpublished short pieces are now on the to-do list: check verbs and any other opportunity to use words that drive the narrative toward the theme.

Take a look at your own works in progress; where are your opportunities to assign double-duty to your prose? How can you tighten the link to your theme?

See you next week!

Bullseye image courtesy of pixabay