When Is a Short Story Short Enough?
Trigger warning: This post has a lot of words about writing of few words.
I had no desire to write mega maxi micro fiction. Lately, I find myself doing just that.
Thank you, editors, for incentive, by creating spaces online that specialize in dishing up reallllly pared-down fictions.
Some want nothing longer than 500 words. Some want everything under 200 words. When I wrote journalism columns, I had to stop at … 700 words!
Comparing an editor who wants nothing longer than 200 words to one who wants nothing longer than 100 is like comparing competitors in a midget boxing match. When is (oh, sorry, appropriate language police just left) twice as much of almost nothing an appealing thing?
Well, actually, it’s pretty sexy. For one reason, we live in a time of shortened attention spans. When Twitter expanded the length of allowed Tweets, it seemed to push in the opposite direction. Generally, we have become a people of conversation, texts and tweets and photos instead of text.
This is not good news for a writer, but when you find yourself in the land of micro mensch, it may be a good idea to step it down. Are we at the dawn of the 1,000-word novel?
I can write long, but my wife (when she was my boss) told me to give her nothing more than 700 words. I learned. It worked. It was a great lesson, mid-career, in how to say something succinctly.
In the world of fiction, 700 words is a very modest “flash.” It’s amazing how much you can accomplish in that space.
Not long ago, I was reminded that a group of writers and editors like it even smaller. Really small. I started sticking my toes into the waters of micro fiction. What a revelation.
I still let the story dictate length, but every so often, I have an idea that begs for extreme reduction.
The process is a marvelous exercise. It works not just to reduce a story to a 100-word nugget, but to hone skills for self-editing everything. A year ago, I wrote a mid-length story of just over 4,000 words. It has languished. Every time I return to it, I find ways to trim flab (ironic, given that the tale involves a woman with a yo-yo weight problem).
Not long ago, I took it from 4,300 words down to 3,200 words.
It’s much more powerful, because it’s much less self-indulgent. Less writing, less florid prose leads to more of what you, the reader, deserve. You deserve a story, well told, succinctly written. If I can do it in 3,200 words, you can finish it in the time it takes to eat a Reese’s cup. That’s great.
If you have any 3,200-word stories lying around, think about how you couild trim them down to 100 words. It’s worth a try. You never know how instructive the exercise could be. And how good the story could become.