I’m on a blogging break this week, but guest bloggers have stepped up to fill the gap. First up is Liana Mir, talking to us about her experience moving from writing flash fiction to longer stories. Welcome, Liana!
I cut my teeth on flash fiction, though from the time I was a child, I was in love with the full-length novel. Somewhere in between my childhood and adulthood, I absorbed the adage, “Make every word count.” I’m here to tell you that those words are false—except when they’re not.
Writing flash fiction is writing to the bone. Literally every word needs to pull its own weight. At three hundred words or less, the average reader will read and pay attention to every word, and even a single wrong vocabulary choice can kill an otherwise good story.
A short story requires a little meat on those bones, a few ligaments and tendons to bind everything together and keep it walking in the right direction. At a certain point, transitions and grounding phrases become necessary. Tying phrases together with “needless” conjunctions and prepositions makes for easier reading. You have more room to pay attention to style.
Novellas have flesh. They hold the shape of a novel with only the necessary meat to fill out all the crevices. They may even have the skin and hair and eyelashes and all the pretty details. At this point, repetition and yes, that horribly maligned friend of writers, redundancy, become powerful tools to aid a reader who would otherwise lose track of the details. This is a length where it is easy to beat a revelation or theme over the reader’s head, but if you only state a thing once, it registers as invisible.
Divergent by Veronica Roth is an amazing young adult novel. The protagonist’s mother’s name is Natalie and her father’s is Andrew. These names are stated only once in the entire book. Nobody I know, including myself, had any idea of what their names were without either looking them or being told.
Repetition is a good thing.
Novels, now, these are the full-blown deal. They wear clothes. Your average reader—who is not suffering from such word-related psychological condition—does not, and does not want to, read every word. If every single word earns its place in a given sentence, on a given page, or worst of all, in a given book, then the reader has to work very, very hard to not miss anything. Note: many bestsellers are accused of bad writing because they make the reading easy.
After writing flash fictions, especially drabbles of exactly one hundred words, for a few years, I found that a common complaint cropped up about most of my work. It was hard to read. People had to go back and reread to get the point. Readers would love my writing but have no idea what was going on. This was more than a little disturbing and came solidly back to my habit of writing only the bones: omitting transitional words and phrases that were supposedly “unnecessary,” cutting out descriptions, showing with too few repetitions, or failing to make a point by telling, in addition to showing.
Bones can sing. Bones can dance. Unless you’re writing flash fiction, though, you want some flesh.
Bio: Liana Mir reads, writes, and wrangles the muses from her mundane home in the Colorado Rockies and, occasionally, from the other side of the Barrier.
Liv Rancourt says
Interesting perspective – something that I need to think about. I’m inclined to think that every word in a novel must be just as carefully chosen as a shorter piece of fiction.You’re just making choices about what kind of clothes your words are going to wear. There’s a discipline to all of it, but the focus is different.
‘Eh, I need to think about it some more. Thanks for the post.
Liana Mir says
Thank you for commenting!
I admit, I always used to think that too, until I wrote drabbles and realized the difference that goes into the choice is astronomical. Try cutting out 17 words from your story when there are only 117 and leaving no effectual change in the content. :shudders:
But what finally convinced me was the fact that all those needless words we’re advised to skip aren’t actually needless at all. I tend to write short, leaving out unnecessary words in all kinds of places other writers have to cut, but my readers regularly demand that I put them back in: descriptions, transitions, “filler” words that are really more like packing material and signposts than the filler my writer magazines told me they were.
But as you said, the focus is different. It’s not that I don’t choose carefully to use those “needless” words; it’s that I had to realize they are not needless.
I have to admit, I like my novels to have a little bit more fluff than is strictly necessary. Novels that are very tightly written (with every word doing double and triple duty) leave me little room to breathe. I like having throwaway details that add to the experience of being in the world of the story but aren’t important to the plot or characterization. The repetition and redundancy and extraneous details make the story more real to me.
Liana Mir says
This. This part of the reader experience is what I missed for so long.
I really like this analogy. It helps me understand why it is that I am drawn to writing novels and not short stories, and what skills I will have to learn in order to write a shorter piece.
Liana Mir says
I’m glad it was helpful to you! So much of this I had to learn and understand the hard way, out of complete failure and bemusement. :shakes head at self: