I had the opportunity to join the Sisters in Crime crowd for a course in short story writing given by Art Taylor. It reminded me that I have a long-haul brain and a swift to explain psyche. It isn’t a terrific combination. I’m fighting both all of the time.
The writing of extremely short (700 words) stories was covered . . . a bit. I found the idea intriguing and liked the promised discipline of it. Really, how do you tell a good tale in seven-hundred words? I’m barely started by then. Heck, I can write seven-hundred words about the Canadian Shield lining Highway 14 in Ontario in seven minutes flat, fingers flying. But should I? Too often, I just want to tell everyone everything about everybody. I spill the beans right out of the can the minute the lid is off. It is a nasty habit.
It means that I spend days after the first draft is completed moving all of the spilled beans around to where they belong in the story. And sometimes, they don’t belong at all. And sometimes, they get left in when they shouldn’t, leaving a soggy bit of mess.
So, I suggested to my Bodie Blue Books partner that we each write a seven-hundred word short story for our upcoming newsletter. For me, it became the perfect exercise in combating my twin demons. Seven-hundred words are not many (heck, I’ve already used nearly a third of them). Like any book or short story, your seven-hundred-word tale needs a beginning, middle, and end, acts one through four, and a climax or conundrum. The enforced discipline of writing a super short story should be obvious by now.
For success, you need to question each word, its placement, purpose, and usefulness to the story right up to the hopefully satisfactory denouement. Each word should serve the purpose of the narrative. One word, one message, one point, one emotion, you can’t waste any of your allotted words, nor should you ever, no matter the length of your manuscript.
Let’s say your characters are awaiting an incoming storm of megalithic proportions. Do you describe the sky or their apprehension? Can you do both? Is it necessary to do both? Which has the most effect on the narrative? The mood?
My tale is a ghost story derived from an actual event in my life. I began writing it as it had occurred at our century-farmhouse packed as it was to the gills with the Uninvited. I felt the need to provide the provenance for the ghost. Then I realized his provenance was the mystery. I had to walk back from my habit of spilling every character’s motivation and back-story, sometimes all at once like spewed pea soup. I worked, and honed, and edited, and . . . recalibrated a lot.
Frankly, the discipline of the limited word count drove me to rethink my writing and re-motivated me. Not a bad way to spend four frustrating days. And the exercise inspired this blog. All good, eh? (505 words)
So, suppose you decide to write an extra-short story? I suggest you limit yourself to precisely seven-hundred words to tell a tale you wouldn’t be ashamed to see in print. It will be time well spent. I leave you with that thought and 145 perfectly-good words to use anywhere needed.
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4 thoughts on “A Little Exercise in Writing”
As the afore-mentioned Bodie Blue Books partner, I can tell you this is hard! I’m still working on mine. No wonder I write novels. My book Bit Player was supposed to be a short story and it wanted to be a novel, so I decided to follow along.
D.Z. I agree, short stories make you really think about what you want to put in a story. I’ve written several romance short stories that are in collections, though they are around 2000-3000 words. I have tried, unsuccessfully, to enter a couple of mystery short story competitions. They are shorter and harder because of- the mystery. Hats off to you for trying and discovering how it can help you when writing your books. Great post!
Though I write short novels, never mastered the art of short stories. Good post, thanks for sharing.
I’ve never tried flash fiction but it sounds like a worthwhile exercise after reading your piece. I too have a tendency to wander in my opening chapters so perhaps I’ll give flash fiction a try. Good post.
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