“Replica” can be almost as dirty a word as “revision” to a writer’s ears. Replica suggests a counterfeit of an original, that first, best gesture of pure artistic expression which, supposedly, revision tries to make palpable for a potential reader. As shown by a growing sub-set of flash fiction willing to re-approach “finished” or closed work via alteration through word choice, phrase syntax or other stylistic features—i.e., Danielle Dutton’s Attempts at a Life (Tarpaulin Sky, 2007)—altering such work may let a writer recognize the technique at play in that original, then replicate it in a new work. Such efforts, given the right source material and process of selecting it, may helpfully complicate the separation of creation and revision, providing an opportunity for writers to become better at revising their own original work as well by seizing upon inconspicuous details and mining them for whatever ends in their drafts.
In 2014 I had a sequence of seven flashes published by Juked that follows this idea based on a subtle visual clue from Alfred Hitchcock’s more famous movies. My inspiration was simple enough: having re-watched Psycho for the first time in a long while, I seized upon Lila picking up a nameless book in Norman Bates’ bedroom with a puzzled look on her face; the scene cuts away from her about to open it, and the movie never reveals its significance later. For some reason this bothered me to no end. Mulling the small mystery over later, I immediately drafted some prose about this book’s possible contents in order to shed light on Norman’s troubled state of mind, what Lila herself was trying to do. Intrigued with the resulting new perspective of this character, I watched other Hitchcock films—Vertigo, The Birds, et al.—and, finding more appearances of books, I attempted the same process by exploring the depth of a main character or situation further, something which the movie’s quick narrative pacing couldn’t provide. I made sure, however, not to lose sight of the storyline or alter the primary details in any way that would contradict the established elements of the movie, only incorporating slight references that a Hitchcock devotee could pick up immediately and move on with. The result was a handful of deliberately open-ended fiction pieces, perhaps leaning towards the prose-poem. The Psycho one, keeping the strongest resonance in my final evaluation, became the last in the sequence, in the end still paying homage to Hitchcock while copying him at the same time.
A flash that provides a faithful replica while finding its own new energy away from the original source it copies—in this case, discovering inconspicuous, trivial items which may suggest more about a character’s psychology if granted a chance—can reward the brave editing hand. Always the slippage of unknown, unanswered things is a call to explore further, even if that means chancing a careful recreation of what is already established and supposedly inviolable.
Forrest Roth’s flash fictions have appeared in NOON, Denver Quarterly, Caketrain, Sleepingfish, Quick Fiction, and other journals. He is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor of English at Marshall University in West Virginia. Links to his work can be found at www.forrestroth.blogspot.com.