Learning to write the short-short story

Learning to write the short-short story

Woot! Got another story out. I wanted to blog this one, though, because it was a new experience for me on a number of levels.

This was the story that I wrote in two hours, a couple of weeks ago. I set a timer for fifteen minutes for brain storming, and another for character creation. I borrowed an existing universe I’d created for another story (or so I thought,) created a character that wasn’t involved in the original story, figured out what he wanted and how he was going to change. Then I set the timer again and hammered it out in about an hour and a half.

I did not expect great things. I just wanted to see if I could get a complete draft out of it.

It turned out to be about 1200 words in that first draft (about six and a half pages.) I figured the editing would be quick and I’d have it out the door in a day or two. I was wrong.

In just under seven pages there isn’t room for sloppiness or weak writing. Every single word counts – that is, of course, always true, but in so little space there is just no room for the reader to gloss over anything. Each and every word has to deliver.

It took me a week. I labored over every paragraph. Sentences that I probably would have left alone in a longer piece I stared at, deleted, wrote, and rewrote.

I also discovered something about that ‘world’ I had borrowed: it had a lot of holes in it. I spent an hour alternately staring into space and free writing, trying to figure out how much of their own history these people knew; how much astronomy the general population knew; what certain things would look like to this particular character.

In only seven pages, there is no room for ‘oh there must be more to this world than is in these pages.’ There is no room for ‘how did he know that?’ The reader won’t forget – there isn’t time for them to forget. Every word counts, and that character’s world needs to make sense to the reader in the context of the story.

I’m actually not 100% sold on one detail that I left in, even though I’ve already sent the story out. I might change it after it’s rejected.

In the end it came in at 1465 words, which is the shortest story I’ve ever written. I consider the experiment a success, even if the story itself never sells (none of them ever have, to date, so hey it’s just status quo.) I learned so much about my weaknesses and was forced to do mental work that I’ve never before made myself face that I am eager to go and do it again as soon as possible.

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