January 8, 2010

Size Matters

I’ve been thinking about length in fiction ~ mostly because I’m working on some short shorts (less than 1,000 words). Size really does matter. Short shorts have to be like narrative poetry, while with a novel you have room to spread out. To be lazy, actually.

It’s true. With a novel, each word doesn’t count for as much, so you can get away with a lot more on the word and sentence level. Sure, novels are a challenge in other ways. How to get them done. How to keep them together. How to keep it all in your head! I always imagine the huge tornado cloud that is my novel swirling above my head. It takes a lot of effort.

However, short stories have really helped me to learn craft on a word-sentence-paragraph level. Every bit of a short story is important. It’s like (what I’ve heard about) the 400 meter in track ~ longer than sprint distance, but yet you still have to sprint the whole way. In other words, the whole thing counts, and you have to put forth your best effort at the beginning, middle, and end, every step of the way.

When writing short stories, there’s also always a tension for me between an exterior fable-like story that covers long spreads of time (and is mostly telling) and a story that covers a very short span of time and is very internal with intrusions of memories (with a lot of showing). Think Annie Proulx or Gabrial Garcia Marquez vs. Tobias Wolff or Anthony Doerr. The same story can be told both ways ~ chronological fable-like skipping through time or one scene with flashbacks. This is something I need to think through more thoroughly.

So, one of my pieces of advice to anyone trying to hone their craft ~ and to myself: work on some short stories.

Oh, and I finished a short short today!

What I’m Reading Today: More of The Known World.

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