Monday, January 30, 2012

Brevity: Need I Say More, Writers?

Apparently, I love the sound of my own voice. Same goes for my writing: I love to read my own words. What can I say? There are times I think I’m the greatest thing since sliced bread.

And when I get on a roll, Faulkner ain’t got nothing on me. I can easily make one thought, one sentence fill three pages… front and back.

For readers, it is pure agony. You might as well ask them to sit in a chair and read all that piled up nonsense with a metal tray of hot coals in their laps. It’s that enjoyable.

I’ve been thinking a lot about storytelling and how it relates to writing a novel. I say novel because that is truly my favorite form. I had written three novels before sitting down to write my first short story. In writing the short story, I felt constricted and longed for elbow room to develop my story and characters.

After completing a few more stories, I began to appreciate the challenge of getting the “story” across in thirty pages, instead of three hundred. The tightness of a thirty page story provides a powerful impact not as easily attained or sustained in a novel.

As I’m in the development stages of my first new book in gabillion years, I find myself hesitant to follow the same process as previously taken with my other novels. As the story takes shape, I’m conscious of the short, powerful punch I want to make. I want this book to hit the reader in the gut, to stun and astound. And maybe induce vomiting.

Sounds like a compacted story is the way to go. Only, it may not be so simple whittling the four hundred pages of story in my head down to two hundred and fifty pages.

And yet, I think of conversation I had once with a professional songwriter from Nashville. After twenty years writing songs for some of the top country stars he was taking a shot at screenwriting. He was interested in the chance to tell a story in a format longer than a three and a half minute song. He wanted more elbow room.

But the more I think about story, and structure, and emotional impact, I can think of no other storytelling format that has the impact a well written song has.

What four hundred page book could add anything to the song, Ode to Billy Joe? Do any of Bob Dylan’s songs need additional material to impart the tone, setting, and plot intended? Who hasn’t heard Eleanor Rigby and not felt what it was like to be her?

I believe when I was a less experienced writer, I felt I had to get everything into a manuscript; every word, thought, and feeling. But now, I’m at a point where I’m interested in what does not make it into the manuscript. I’m seeing the beauty in less is more. And I think I like it.

Writing is a solitary expedition that starts at one point and ends in a place completely unimaginable. As I dive deeper into this latest book, I believe my expedition is taking me away from the familiar path I’ve worn thin over the years. Now into my fourth novel, I am heading into a jungle of gnarled trees and twisted roots that must be hacked and hacked and hacked to proceed.

And I am most excited.

As much as I’d like to go into more detail, I think I’ll keep it brief and get my machete out. Let the hacking begin.


Amos Keppler said...

A truly great story ends up as something completely different compared to how it started out. Readers should always be "fooled" by the first chapter.

Idabel Allen said...

Amos Keppler truly knows what he be saying. My problem is always being patient enough to get to the great story at the end. I've gotten better at it though.

Chris said...

Great post, Idabel. I work in short stories already, but I still work at cutting them down. I want to distill them down to their essence. To say as much as I can in as few words as possible. I'm sure I could trim them further than I do. Have done some experimentation lately, taking 2000 word pieces and cutting until I have 300, to see what I'm left with. Sounds daunting, but I always learn a lot about the piece when I do this. I find out where the real center of the story is.

Brian said...

I try to avoid thinking about word counts too hard and just write it how it needs to be written.

Idabel Allen said...

Thanks for the comments, guys. I agree with you Brian. I never look at word count. I generally try to complete a scene or chapter regardless of the length. But like Chris says, its in the editing that the slicing and dicing occurs. I don't want to limit the initial writing, but I want to pare it down to the core in the end. It's making me think of my narrative voice. I think if I settle on the "right" narrative voice it might naturally lead me down a path of brevity without me being aware. The last thing I want to do when writing is force the story a certain way. But if it happens naturally, all the better.

Carmen DeSousa said...

Nicely written, Idabel. And I understand completely. I've had to cut all my novels to less than 100k words, so I wouldn't scare the publisher. But surprisingly enough, through our collaborated efforts on the final story, we ended back up at 110k. Just to challenge myself, I did enter a contest for a 500-word story--came in at 499. LOL! It was a great challenge, though. I'll be following you for more great posts. :)

Anonymous said...

Yes, that's a great way of looking at it. Though, I'm not sure about the comparison to songs. To me, they are a totally different animal because we tend to feel them more than anything. A story, on the other hand, we get to know intimately.

There are some stories I've read that couldn't be any shorter than they are, and they're long. It's just the way the author created the world, conflicts, and settings. It screams to be long winded. Other stories, depending on the content, are much better kept short and powerful.

Either way can be great. Best of luck on your new adventure.

~Writer's Carnival

Danielle Sevenwaters said...

Fabulous blog post! Being one of those who tends to go on, and on, and on, and then on some more... I can relate!

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