The Long and the Short [Sentences]; Flash Fiction

I just finished and submitted a story. I am pleased with it. I am pleased that it finally came together; like many stories, this one has been in my back pocket for over a year or so. Granted, I had a baby and a major work project in the past year, but I am certain that the wait for this and the others is/was not lack of time and effort.

I did some things differently with it. I submitted it to a new online magazine for speculative flash fiction [link’s above if you’re interested in exploring, submitting]. As I’ve noted on this blog, I’ve already been thinking about working on flash fiction because then I can focus on structure, rather than character or other nuances. There are a few other factors, though, that make this story different:

(1) I read an article on Angela Carter, a British writer known for her renditions of fairy tells. The article writer points out that short stories were where Carter truly shines. There’s even a quote from Salman Rushdie on how her novels don’t really work: her style is best suited to short form.

Much like coming across the essay on essays and realizing how well the description fit me, I recognized myself in reading about Carter. There may be a day when I blast off into longer work. Despite my consummate need for attention and glory, and knowing that all the accolades go to novelists, I have serious doubts that I will ever write anything longer than a novella.

Suddenly I was able to see that [many of] my stories should be very, very short. Perhaps not all under 1000 words, but much shorter, tighter, crisper. Because the significant element is the conceit. In Embroymancy or The KarKari Don’t Want to Die there is no real reason to contemplate character, in fact doing so may detract from the story.

There are other stories that are about a character’s change, but even there, it’s worth contemplating how much can be burned off.

(2) So in thinking about what can be burned off, in the story I just finished, I allowed the story to go over 1000 words in order to get to the ending. But then I went back through and eliminated excess. This can’t always be done: I have edited stories into  obscurity before. But in this case it was satisfying to see how much can be stripped away to leave the story elegantly lean.

I can actually see a cloud lift from head: I had been thinking, falsely, that some how I needed to *pack* my stories. That I needed more meat, more muscle, more fat. And some stories need it: M John Harrison’s Viriconium would not be the same story without mood of setting. Here is necessary excess, because it is not just about what happens: his worlding is in the sentences. No, I don’t own a copy, which is dumb, I should. if I did, I’d go through and find some examples.

(3)This brings me to my last point which is sentences. I f*&^ing love long sentences. I don’t have a copy of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, but he is a user of the longer sentences, which I find to have a hypnotic effect. Until. He needs. To get your attention with short ones. At least, that’s what I remember thinking while reading it. Particularly because around the same time I picked up Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist. Gay is all about short. Short short short. I don’t actually care for it so much. I feel like I’m reading her on a bumpy road and keep. stopping. short.

But.

In the interest of pushing myself, I specifically went against my own inclinations and wrote super short sentences in this last flash fiction piece. And I found that I like it. And I found that it served the story far better than my deliciously long sentences.

For comparison, Adichie’s Americanah begins with a sentence 5.5 lines longs. LOVE. Any how. child crying.

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