Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Making Every Word Count

I write fantasy novels. Woman of Honor was over 88K, Knight of Glory over 96. Hidden in Shadows is 97K.

But I also write short stories. And flash pieces.

Now I find that flash pieces are by far the hardest to write. You can't go into too much detail and you definitely don't have time for character development. Heck, you're lucky if you can spare a few words to give details like the MC's hair color! With flash pieces, each word has to be important, has to move the plot along. Each word has to be integral to the story. Flash pieces have to be so tight you can hardly cut them with a knife.

I've noticed that writing flash pieces has made my short stories and novels better. When I'm editing, I look at each scene as a flash piece and try to squeeze out as many excess words as possible. I have a tendency to have a new crutch word or two with each story I write. With Hidden in Shadows it was "just" and "that". So I highlight those words and if they aren't needed, delete. Could I rephrase this sentence and lose a few words? Delete the excess. Cut the fat out. Make your stories trim.

But be careful not to trim too much. With short stories and novel, you have the luxury of more words. You can develop your characters, have them grow and change. Describe not only their appearance but what they are wearing and their surroundings. You can cut too much from a story so that it is too bare bones.

So if your crit partners are telling you that you need to tone down your verbose tendencies, I encourage you to write a flash piece or two. Write a couple short (complete) stories no more than 500 words. It's a challenge but it can be done.

Warning: some flash pieces will beg to be longer and may turn into a short story, or even a novel. Several of my short stories are begging to be turned into novels. I just might oblige. But first I have to finish Champion of Valor. Which hopefully won't be more than 100K. :)

Have you ever written a flash piece? Would you write one? Why or why not?


Cherie Reich said...

Flash pieces are wonderful for developing your craft. I try to write a flash fiction piece a week for my blog (although I may write more a week to get ahead of the game *laughs*). Every word counts, and that is great about them.

Unfortunately, I've found I have to be careful. When I first began to edit my first novel, I was trying to cut out unnecessary words, but then I was cutting out too many. It became the bare bones of a story, as you mentioned. So, I'm having to pause and rewrite.

It's a fine line, but I really think delving into flash, short stories, and novels can make you a more rounded and better writer. I'd definitely keep writing them. :)

Tamika: said...

I've never written a flash piece, but I love the suggestion. There is a tendency with my writing for me to be long winded and full of more prose than may be needed.

LM Preston said...

I usually write skinny and have to add the fat during edits. I'm always looking for new ways to improve though.

Lisa Rusczyk said...

I love writing flash pieces. Cherie Reich posts a flash piece every Friday on her blog and sometimes I do too. It's fun!

beth said...

You are so right! Great post. Also, I love your blog lay out. This is incredible! So jealous.

Theresa Milstein said...

I hear you. THAT is the bane of my existence. My critique buddy, Aubrie is my that-stomper.

I agree about short stories teaching us to write only what counts.

Good luck with Champion of Valor.

LM Preston said...

That's a great tip. My only problem is I write skinny, so I usually have to add more details. I haven't written a short story in a long time and wonder if I even could now. I'd like a link to some of your flash fiction. It sounds like a great lunchtime read.

Krispy said...

I think that's a great technique to try. The problem for me is I can't wrap my mind around shorts, which is why I have problems with short stories; my pacing is always off. But it's true that shorts are a great way to force you to weigh your words! I think looking at/reading poetry helps in this sense too.

I'll have to see if flash is my thing. :)

Cherie said...

I think flash stories are excellent training for trimming the fat. I've done a number of pieces 750 words or less. It's hard sometimes, but worth the challenge!