Liz (amidala_thrace) wrote,
Liz
amidala_thrace

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Writer's Block: Six-Word Story

Hemingway was once challenged to write a story in only six words. His response? “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” He is believed to have called it his greatest literary work ever. Can you write a story in six words?


Uh, hello? Hemingway is, well, Hemingway. Also, I want to see some proof that the quote and story are actually attributable to Hemingway. Snopes.com is your friend, yo.

Anyway, all cynicism aside, I highly doubt I could accomplish such a feat. Hell, I can barely write a story in a hundred words, which is why I avoid drabble challenge communities like the plague. Even with the drabble request meme, I included a proviso that said, basically, "Fics may not be exactly 100 words long, because I suck at writing short stuff." Short and Liz do not mix, and it has been so ever since I started writing at age eleven. In eighth grade my English teacher complained, multiple times, about my producing ten- and eleven-page stories for weekly writing assignments that were supposed to be at most two or three pages. She finally threatened to dock marks if I didn't tone it down a little. So I did, and I was displeased with every subsequent assignment that I handed in. At least the teacher was happy, though.



I don't know what it is about writing short things that freaks me out. Possibly it's the idea of having a limit, that I have to tell the story in six words or a hundred words OR ELSE. I've never liked being limited as a writer, in any way, shape or form. That's why some of my pieces have turned out a lot longer than I expected they'd be, and a lot plottier. (Side note: I am seemingly also incapable of writing PWP, or Porn-Without-Plot, without having a plot sneak in there somewhere. I have no idea why this is, but I would like it to change.) In my mind, to restrict the word count is to restrict the potential breadth of the story, and for me, that's going to result in a stunted piece which I won't be proud of.

I think what gives the Hemingway story its "Wow" factor is the idea that it does indeed take a lot more work to write a short story than it does to write a longer story. Sounds counterintuitive, right? But it's not, and I know that from writing newspaper articles where there's a word restriction. It is much more difficult to say something in few words than it is to say it in many words. We use so many colloquialisms, unnecessary terms, and flowery descriptions that take up a ton more space than would be used if we just said what we meant, and said it simply. But simple in this case is more difficult than complex, because you have to filter OUT all those extras. This is waaaaaay harder than it sounds.

Redundancies are a big problem, for example. I've used one in the last paragraph - can you spot it? That's right: "does indeed." I could get away perfectly well with just saying "does." But it isn't human nature to do that, is it? And there's one in this paragraph too! Yep: "perfectly well." Other such redundancies include "unnecessary extras," "déja vu all over again," "irregardless" (that one's a particular pet peeve of mine - drives me NUTS every time I encounter it!), "huge monstrosity," "large fortune," "infinitesimally small" and many, many others. I was taught in journalism school to keep a particular eye out for these and to eliminate them, but as you know, I'm not always successful! In fact, in addition to the above booboos I caught myself yesterday about to type "crushing grief" in a fic I'm currently working on. The word grief is enough to convey what I'm trying to say all by its lonesome; I don't need to add crushing to make readers understand that Sam is upset about losing Kara to the Cylons on New Caprica. Everyone will grasp that if Sam's grieving, he's probably not jumping up and down with happiness! So "crushing" is not only unnecessary but also a tad melodramatic.

But damn, it's a habit, almost impossible to break. And modifiers like those mentioned above do have their place, to add flavour and description to an otherwise bland sentence. It's just when they start to creep in and sound either melodramatic or plain unnecessary that it becomes, well, annoying. And you realize how much more concise you can be, and you feel ashamed.



And now I've realized exactly how long this post is, to answer a simple little question. So, I shall desist, and go play with my new iPhone some more. Whee!
Tags: writer's block, writing
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