Monday, March 3, 2008

I can write that story in ....

In 1953 there was a television show called, "Name That Tune." (Don't worry if you remember it but swear you aren't that old - there were several incarnations of the show during the 70s into mid- 80s!) It was a contest to see who could identify a song in the least number of notes.

Several times over the past two weeks I've run into articles or conversations about writing where the goal is something like "I can tell that story in..." some minimal number of words. The most extreme was an article I read last week about an entire book of six word biographies. Then, again, yesterday at the writing seminar the topic of abbreviated story telling was raised. The facilitator started us off with a story about someone challenging Hemingway to tell a story as succinctly as possible. Hemingway said he could do it in six words and wrote: "For Sale: baby shoes. Never used." Hmm!

The seminar facilitator did not challenge us to do it in six words. He did challenge us, however, to do it in six sentences and gave us 30 minutes to write. There is a website, Six Sentences, which publishes pieces that are, obviously, six sentences long. So we wrote and I had a basic story flowing. I had the closing idea, but not the exact structure at the end of the 30 minutes. Perhaps that is my next step: to do some practice at sketching out a short write quicker and then go back to fill out the details and tweak the "colors". I like that process in art, the quick sketch to capture movement and impressions, then add the layers while maintaining the initial gut-level laying down of the vision. We left the seminar with the challenge of developing a piece over the remaining time together which is six paragraphs; I haven't started that one.

This morning an email from the facilitator urged me to tighten up - or "snap," as he put it - the end and then submit it to the website. I will admit with minimal embarrassment that the email was needed and, once again, synchronous. Because of the reminder, I stuck the nearly completed six sentence story in my bag and headed out to my various appointments today. One of them was to facilitate my Write Around Portland group - always a boost of creative energy and something I love to do. Even if it's a day with things happening in the room which prevent me from going deeply into my own writing, it primes the pump for creative juices later. Which is what happened today.

I left the writing group with enough time to get to my next destination and to grab a cup of soup and some coffee. I thought I'd take a look over the six sentences and see how I could convey what I wanted more concisely. I was in line behind a person who couldn't decide between the raspberry jammers or the cheese danish. My phone vibrated once, signaling a text message. It was the student interpreter I was supposed to be observing shortly telling me that the client wasn't going to attend tonight, so we needed to reschedule my observation.

There it was - the extra time I needed. I decided to just order coffee and go to one of my favorite writing spots where I knew I could spend two hours, if needed, to finish up this little piece. And I did. It didn't take two hours, although if I count the thinking about it time while I ate dinner, it was two hours. I wrote it up at the restaurant, then came home, typed it up and submitted it. Now I get to wait - I bet you can guess - six days to see if it is accepted.

It was a good exercise. Some of my sentences are longer and filled with visual detail. I did it.

There is more to come on this topic of short shorts, flash fiction, and our very busy lives. But, for now, I wrote a piece in six sentences and it contains all the elements of a story. Good for me. And I wonder...

Slice of Heaven

by Dot.

Billy Jo reached into his brown paper lunch sack and pulled out the expected unidentifiable sandwich in a pleated baggie. He sat down on the metal beam, dangling his legs over the edge, and balanced the sandwich on his left knee. He peered into the mouth of the bag to see what else Doris had managed to scrape together: a too purple Red Delicious apple, a bag of Granny Goose potato chips, a can of Select cola, and a pair of her godawful oatmeal raisin cookies. Billy Jo removed the soda and dropped the sack between the beams, where it would join the unwanted remains of previous lunches and piles of construction debris. With the first bite of sandwich his gaze moved from the cars and cabs and buses below to the sumptuous feast in his hand: braunschweiger with stone ground mustard, red onion, and butter lettuce winked back at him. Without looking he knew Doris had found the ten dollar bill hidden in the lining of his wallet and with the second bite, he didn’t care.

[top] Bamboo : a Sumi-e painting by Dot.