When I was studying creative writing in college, I constantly got the same note from my peers and teachers regarding my writing – it’s verbose and no one really speaks like that. They weren’t blown away by my extensive vocabulary; they were annoyed by it. “Why did you use ‘proffered’ when the slice of cake could’ve just been ‘offered’ to that character?”
Uh…well…proffered is more impressive…maybe? Yeah, maybe not.
In terms of fiction writing, I’ve always been good with details. I like to write with a cinematic lens. I want my readers to “watch” the story while reading it. But with that kind of style comes the threat of masturbatory prose syndrome. Yes, the kind of writing that is so detailed and chock full of fancy language that it’s only pleasing to the writer who leans back in their chair, scratching their belly, and thinking, Damn, I’m good.
How this ever happened to a girl who absolutely adores the writing of Ernest Hemingway, king of brevity, is beyond me.
I’m happy to report that things have changed. Although I do slip into that writing style from time to time (habits are hard to break), I’ve become a very critical self-editor. My writing has come leaps and bounds because I’m now striving to be succinct and smart with my writing.
But no new habit is good without reinforcement. Enter LitReactor, my daily word nerd porn. If you are a writer and you haven’t found LitReactor, go there now. It’s a rather impressive site full of literary articles, writing workshops and classes, advice for publishing…it’s writer’s Mecca.
Anyway, as I was saying, LitReactor has surfaced as this unexpected form of reinforcement for my reformed writing style. How? Two words. Flash fiction.
Straight from the site itself, here’s how this works.
“Welcome to LitReactor’s Flash Fiction Smackdown, a monthly bout of writing prowess, in which you’re challenged to thrill us in 250 words or less.
We give you a picture. You write a flash fiction piece, using the picture we gave you as inspiration. Put your entry in the comments section. One winner will be picked, and awarded a prize.
250 words is the limits (you can write less, but you can’t write more)
Give it a title
We’re not exactly shy, but let’s stay away from senseless racism or violence
One entry per person
Editing your entry after you submit it is permitted”
For those of you who hate writing, 250 words seems like a lot. For those of us who love it (and perhaps suffer from masturbatory prose syndrome), 250 words is miniscule, barely enough to set the who, what, when, where, and why of a scene.
I have committed myself to entering this contest every month as an exercise in creativity and brevity. It forces me to say what I need to say as concisely as possible. It makes me choose my words carefully. It forces character to the forefront of my scene, which is really where it’s at. Even for such a short writing piece, I have to go back and edit, decide what’s important and what can be cut. It’s a great experience.
And a little friendly competition is never a bad thing.
They announce November’s winner tomorrow, so today I’m all squirmy like a kid before a choir concert. I’ve got butterflies and I can’t wait to see how it turns out. In the meantime, here’s the prompt for this month – and my entry. To check out all the entries, go here (there are some very talented writers who have submitted – great reads!).
Photo via MSN
My fingers rhythmically drum the melody of a song my mother used to sing as I survey the sea of purple cotton before me. Beneath my fingertips, the head of my wooden cane thrums dully with my touch. My hip aches, but I refuse to shift my weight. Instead, I revel in the pain, the reminder that my body is grasping at this life and not succumbing to it.
My eyes narrow and my lips purse as I notice that a number of my students are splaying their feet, their heels close together and toes pointed outward on the diagonal. Bad form.
I shake my head and suck cold air through my teeth.
These girls don’t understand discipline. They don’t yet appreciate the subtle intricacies of this art form, twisting and negotiating with the body so that it can reach its full potential. Many say it’s unnatural, it ruins the human form, it’s not something we should encourage anymore.
Well, they know nothing.
I know the sweet surrender of an accommodating sternum, the sensuality of hips shifting into a space you didn’t know was there underneath your joints, the abandon that can encapsulate you if you can simply stretch two more inches.
The delicious snap that separated me from my youth, my calling, echoes through my memory like a bell. My fingertips burn hot on my cane.
I had discipline. Now it is mine to administer. Once their backs have given me two more inches, we all can rest.