Friday, September 23, 2011

Brevity is the Soul of Wit

Chuck Wendig has a flash fiction challenge every Friday. He frequently picks out his favorite and gives them some sort of awesome prize, like one of his ebooks.

This week he's done something interesting: the limit is three sentences. Yes, he means for you to tell a story in three sentences. You can post your entry on his blog in the comments section, and or on your own blog.

You can read the entries in the comments section now, and it's really interesting to see what people do with just three sentences. 

It's made me analyze what goes into a story. What absolutely has to be there. Books are thousands of words long. At first I think, "Madness. You can't tell a real story in three sentences." But as I read though the comments section, where you post your entries, I realized you can tell a good story in just three sentences. It's amazing to look at a story at the barest bones. 

You'd think you need to load each sentence with words, description, action. But as I read through the entries, most of those stories don't work for me. It's too much detail. I can't hold it all in my head, and the story becomes muddled. 

Then you have the really simple sentences. "A boy was hungry. So hungry. He ate the world." It's a story, sure. Problem presented, problem solved. But there's nothing else to it. It doesn't leap alive in your head. It doesn't have movement and weight.

Read through some of those entries, and you'll get an entire story. It flows towards a conclusion, even in just three sentences. There's a quickening, the words paint a tale of more than just what's there. There's subtext, and most importantly to me, it feels complete. It's not just a quick character sketch. It feels like it's as long as it needs to be.

For someone who is long winded, this is an interesting revelation for me. What if after writing a rough draft, I told myself I had to cut X number of words from this chapter? This scene? This paragraph? How would I tell the story differently? How could I make my point without bogging the story down with needless words?

It's something I want to try in the future. Not cutting away the important pieces of the story, but challenging myself and really making sure that every single word needs to be there, is pulling it's own weight. 

What about you? What works and what doesn't for those very short stories?  

1 comment:

  1. I admire the concise writer. I've been struggling with this skill during the editing process. I need to cut 20,000 words! Good luck on the three sentence challenge. Great idea!