Yesterday I spent time and effort on two writing projects that were totally unrelated, but one of them made a considerable impact on the other. First, I had Chapter 16 of the novel-in-progress to finish. Next, I decided to write a short story that was exactly 600 words long, including title. It's for an NPR thing.
I have never written flash fiction before, but surprisingly the 600-word limit really appealed to me. Possibly it was the puzzle aspect of writing it: if I was in paragraph 10, for example, and I wanted to add a word, I had to find and delete a word from paragraphs 1-9. This forced me to write with a great deal of conciseness, cutting things down so that I was able to say what I wanted in the fewest number of words while being able to say as many things as possible. It was some tricky. I'm still not finished with the story, but forcing myself to do that sort of very tight editing/revising made me impatient with any sort of writing that wasn't as terse and to-the-point as possible. Which was cool, in its own way.
However. I also have that novel-in-progress. The language of the novel is a sort of Elizabethan English which is expansive, additive, cumulative. Wordy, that is. A bit on the fancy side, especially in dialogue. When I sat down to finish the scene I'm working through I was still in my "600 words is all I get" frame of mind, and so I would cut almost everything I tried to put into the scene. "Too much," I said. "Not necessary," I barked. "Reduce! Compress! Cut cut cut!"
After about an hour I had written about 500 words, but I had crossed almost all of them out and the voice of what I had left didn't match the expansive, ruminative voice of the rest of the book. Fail, as the kids say.
So what I think I've learned is this:
1. Flash fiction is cool. The challenges are numerous and rewarding, and you really begin to look at stories in a different way. You can sort of reimagine them and restructure them easily, because there aren't that many moving parts, unlike a novel. Writing them also gives you an awareness of how much you can really say with very few words.
2. Flash fiction may not be a good introduction to writing longer things. Maybe all of the good points will help you write longer pieces that have no fluff or filler, but if you are going for something relaxed and a bit diffuse, your flashified brain will eat all of that expansive feeling up and spit it out and contract your prose so much that it's not at all what you want. At least that was my experience yesterday.
So a question or two: Who here writes both flash fiction and longer forms like novels? Do you/did you have a similar experience to mine? How do you balance it? Do you try to write longer fiction using the same brevity that flash fiction demands? Am I just an idiot and nobody but me has these problems? 'Cause that's possible.