When Writing Less is More
I’m verbose – both on the page and in person.
Through necessity I’m learning to be expedient with my non fiction writing – one of the weekly columns that I write confines me to 400-600 words. Part of me feels sad that increasingly non fiction is being compressed into micro flashes of information. I feel an intellectual tic at this; that the internet is dumbing down and debasing the art of writing a meaningful article, feeding the three second attention that seems to be spreading outward from Generation Y.
But what does it mean for fiction? Can fiction be short and sweet – and work? Be meaningful? Engaging?
Flash fiction, also known at sudden fiction, micro fiction, micro-story, postcard fiction and more recently fast fiction, is increasing in popularity among writers of all ages and genres. Flash fiction, considered to be works less than 1000 words, is not new. The roots of this writing style go back to Aespos Fables and embraced by such diverse literary greats as Arthur C Clarke and Franz Kafta. But it has come into its own with the advent of the internet.
Flash/fast fiction reflecting its non fiction cousin is coming with leaner word counts – mirrored by the growing number of submission guidelines with 500 word limits, both for competitions and publishing. Anyone who has written a meaningful and compelling story within that limited word count knows how difficult, but fulfilling, it can be to achieve. It is definitely something to consider to push our boundaries as writers.
What if we hone it down further?
Last year I completed an exercise from Brian Kiteley’s wonderful book The 3am Epiphany: uncommon writing exercises that instructed the writer to compile a character’s life story in 100 words. A hundred words forces you to get to the crux of your character and to decide what is and isn’t important in your character’s back story. It is a good place to start when you are getting to know a character. Again, another good exercise in boundary pushing.
But what if a story was just one sentence long?
One Sentence is a brilliant concept site that gives people an opportunity to share a true story in one sentence. The site says it is:
… an experiment in brevity. Most of the best stories that we tell from our lives have one really, really good part that make the rest of the boring story worth it.
The challenge of One Sentence is to tell the most interesting or poignant story possible in the least amount of words and reading the entries there is certainly food for thought, both as a collector and creator of stories. And the thing is, whether we like it or not, there is an autobiographical footprint in every piece of fiction we create – some more obvious than others. Is this where our “one sentence” resides in our fiction?
Inspired by the One Sentence concept, my challenge to you this week is to write a piece of fiction in one sentence. Is it possible?