The Levity of Brevity

[Time to kick it old school…yeeeah boyee!] Just found out my first attempt at writing a Nanoism is scheduled to publish in July.  A Nanoism is microfiction based on Twitter-length stories—that’s right, up to 140 characters.  Microfiction is a trend relatively new to me, but one that writer Milo James Fowler (In Media Res blog), utilizes as a means of keeping his creativity flowing during and between writing stories—one of his submissions (75-words only) was recently published at Paragraph Planet.  And now I’m appreciating it as a tool for practicing how to pare down.

I can dash off a 10-20 page essay with relative ease, but it was back in grad school when I was asked to write only 2-3 pages comparing/contrasting 3 works of fiction that I suffered my first true writer’s block.  The notes I’d taken in preparation weren’t even that succinct, so just when I felt my extensive planning would make the writing a cinch, trying to pull it all together within that parameter had me seriously contemplating just dropping out of a $1,500 class (non-refundable by that time, of course. Ouch.).

“Brevity is a great charm of eloquence.”  – Cicero

Conciseness is an art.  Truly.  Go figure that it was probably my first career in business that ultimately saw me through that essay—though it sucked the creative soul out of writing, it taught me a thing or two about keeping it brief and direct, and…well…any of you who read my stuff here will see that that particular skill has by now gone to the wayside…gah, I recently sent off a guest post weighing in at just under 2,000 words (scheduled for Real Bloggers United on July 17th), which has me contemplating the value of getting to the point faster.

“Let thy speech be short, comprehending much in few words.”
–  Bible, Ecclesiasticus

“The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.”
– Thomas Jefferson

Admittedly, one of the factors that initially delayed me in writing my manuscript’s ending was word count.  At 90,000, I’d estimated I was about three-quarters through when a concerned author told me that’s the length my entire work should be as a newbie.  So thinking about both the tremendous hacking I was going to have to do in addition to still writing said ending sent me into panic, which I’ve only just recently released.  Basically, I’ve adopted the mindset that I need to just let myself carry the story out freely and deal with the editing afterwards, which has helped, though the inevitable still hovers over my head like the guillotine blade I’ll need to use on my text, the executioner of my own words 😦

This all being said, what I have trimmed out so far has clearly strengthened the story, just as my sage advisers always said it would, so I do trust in that.  And as I look at bits I’ve scribbled along the way and always assumed would have a place in my book, I understand now that if they didn’t meld in naturally by this point, to attempt to include them now would be about as thrilling to me as gouging a funnel down a duck’s neck to make myself foie gras.  I think instead I’ll measure out those grains for a less fatty entree or side dish in future meals…

So.  I’ve lapsed on updating this blog until today because I have indeed been cranking on my ending as well as going back to the beginning to ensure there’s balance—and, in doing so, I can see how my writing has evolved over the course of this long project…how my sentences were much longer and more complex, my descriptions more frequent…it seems I’ve since learned a wee bit more about the art of condensing, so may need to retroactively apply that to those opening chapters so the overall work can shed that fat and really flex its muscles.

“It is with words as with sunbeams. The more they are condensed, the deeper they burn.”  – Robert Southey

Huh.  I thought I’d be brief with this post.  Oh, the irony.


About thefallenmonkey

Primate that dapples in writing when not picking others' fleas or flinging its own poop. View all posts by thefallenmonkey

18 responses to “The Levity of Brevity

  • Katherine Gotthardt

    One of the reasons I love poetry is that it requires exactness and brevity. Extra words distract and detract.

    I’ve written 500 word stories before, but never anything Twitter-length. Might try it out.

    Good post!

    • thefallenmonkey

      Thank you, Katherine! I just swung over to your blog and am eager to explore more of your work—a belated congratulations on your book of poetry!

      Yes, poetry is so powerful in that it packs so much more punch in fewer words. A difficult craft to master, which is why I don’t write much of it and am impressed with those who do. I think you’d get a kick out of writing a Nanoism. It’s an entertaining site to read through…there are some that really conjure grander scenes and stories than one would think 140 characters could produce.

  • Eva

    Super post, I like it a lot! Have heard about twitter literature and am quite intrigued, although never tried myself. So hope I will be happy enough to see your piece!

    Hailing from an copy writing background myself I know how much information and emotions can (and have to be) be packed in just a couple of simple words, so I guess my writing is heavily influenced by it. Still, in my first drafts I ALWAYS go overboard lengthwise. My agent asked me to cut out 100 pages out of my manuscript of 500, and when recovering from that shock and actually doing it I was amazed how I didn’t miss a word afterwards. Scary, especially because I already had cut around 70 pages before myself before even submitting. But guess that’s just the way I work. Overwrite first, ask questions later. 🙂

    Love that you are working towards your ending and seem to have made a step further – you go girl! Best of luck!

  • Agatha82

    Never heard of this Nanoism or Twitter fiction, then again, I don’t twitter so that’s probably why. Interesting and yes, having to pare things down is very hard, I tend to go into too much detail most of the time and like you, I had a very big first draft which I’ve trimmed down considerably…it’s the murder your darlings thing, works really well. Congrats on getting your first Nanoism published!

  • TheIntentionalSage

    Interesting stuff. I find it rather ironic that I was writing only 300-400 word posts when I first started my current incarnation of this blog and it was requested (by a few people) that I shift my posts to make them longer. I obliged, lol.

    I can’t imagine “imagining” any of the stories that I do in 140 characters. 😛

    With Love and Gratitude,

    The Intentional Sage

    • thefallenmonkey

      It’s funny, because when I first started this blog, I was completely paranoid that my posts were getting too long (and perhaps they are!) and I was breaking a fundamental rule of blogging, but I realized that the blogs I read most are also lengthy, and someone had written a post saying to give our readers more credit that they can have the attention span to take on paragraphs 🙂 Still, though, there’s something to be said for posts that get to the point—they’re the most conducive for keeping up on a daily basis. At any rate, I look forward to checking out your blog, so thanks for swinging by mine!

      And yeah, the Nanoism is a quirky thing. I’m still not sure mine qualifies as a “story,” per se; it’s more of a snapshot in time that prompts imagining what might have led up to it and what will happen afterwards, so I guess it’s really the reader’s imagination that fleshes the story out with a beginning, middle, and end.

      Cheers, The Intentional Sage!

  • tahliaN

    I’m looking forward to reading the Nonoism, I hadn’t heard of such a thing either.

    I sure know about the wordcount thing though. When I got my agent, she asked me to cut 19,000 words to bring it down to the magical ‘can-do-publishing-newbee-author’ wordcount of 100,000 words. The result was an improvement, but I do miss some of the longer descriptions.

    If you’re interested to see how I did it, have a look at

    • thefallenmonkey

      Awesome—thank you, will read that straightaway! 19,000 words is a feat. So, then, 100,000 is still within respectable range? I think I’m on track to exceed that by 10,000 in that case.

  • nothingprofound

    I have the exact opposite problem. I find it impossible to be anything but brief. Hence aphorisms. When I try to expand, I quickly lose the thread, and can’t feel any connection between the sentences.

    • thefallenmonkey

      I like that quality. I tend to be a babbler when I speak as well, so I’ve always envied my father–he is a man of few words, so what he does say bears more weight. As do your aphorisms, so there’s a special purpose for such conciseness. It cuts through the rest of our yammering like a knife.

  • Lua

    “the inevitable still hovers over my head like the guillotine blade I’ll need to use on my text, the executioner of my own words”
    Oh my, cutting has never sounded so heart-breaking (which I think shows just how great you are as a writer!) 🙂
    I hate cutting my own words as well, I recently had to cut my first paragraph… I liked it a lot but it was unnecessary and wasn’t helping the story so you know… bye bye paragraph! 🙂
    Writing short is hard (writing 140 characters short is ridiculously hard but I am looking forward to reading your Nonoism) and it takes practice & lots of editing… The funny thing is when I started writing short stories years ago, I always wrote too short and wondered if I could ever manage to write something longer… And now I have to “cut” my stories in order to make it shorter…
    Like you said, ‘the irony’… 🙂

    • thefallenmonkey

      Oh, hurrah! You’ve commenced your revision, then! Did you find that time away from it helped? First paragraph…wow, that’s an impressive cut. I was so hung up on my first page, feeling everything was so critical to the story, that it’s interesting to look back now and determine whether all the things I’d planted there in expectation of developing later really came to pass. Will wait and see what I end up trimming out there. But I’d read about how some first-time authors end up cutting out their entire first chapters because the story didn’t really start until Chapter 3 or so…so in addition to irrelevance, sometimes what’s there could pertain, but is too much set up from the getgo and could maybe be broken up and integrated later in the story, all for the sake of starting the book where the story really begins and where it’s very interesting right away. And I completely understand what you mean about once writing too short, then too long…starting a novel for the first time feels like the first strokes into an entire ocean to tread, so you feel like there’s so much leeway (at least I did) to ramble on and put whatever you want in there until you start seeing the story start to gel and realize that every single sentence needs to relate to that and nothing more. A thrilling learning experience, isn’t it? When I eventually return to the classroom, I don’t think I’ll ever teach writing in quite the same way again…

      • Lua

        Yes, my suspension is finally over and I reunited with my novel YAY! 🙂 Time away did help, I saw some mistakes which I can’t believe I’ve made… I only revised my first chapter, each page takes about 15 minutes so it’s a long process…
        A thrilling learning experience indeed, cutting and rewriting, writing too short, then too long… It feels like the learning will never end, there will always be a way to make it better, be a better writer…
        I guess that’s the whole point; the journey not the destination… 🙂

  • milkfever

    “Brevity is a great charm of eloquence.” – Cicero

    I love that quote. Very true. One thing I have discovered though, is that “cutting” can become addictive. If I don’t watch myself, I can halve my word count before I’ve even realised what I’m doing. Then I have to go and put things back in again.

    Btw, I visited your sister’s website , and loved it. What a great, quirky, well-designed place. I’m all envy.

    • thefallenmonkey

      Aw, that was so nice of you stop by there! She’ll appreciate your kind words—she’s been having a lot of fun with playing up the 80s setting of her book 🙂

      That’s wild that you’ve actually run into over-cutting! Thanks for the heads-up on that risk, as it’s totally something I can see myself doing. After reading a post about eliminating “be” verbs, I couldn’t reread anything I’d written on a content-only basis without tripping up on every applicable verb and trying to hack it out. It’s not like it’s all bad, so I’ll keep myself from getting overzealous 🙂

  • Swinging Into the Christmas Tree… « The Fallen Monkey

    […] are offering a monthly variation, however, of which I think I’m going to take advantage). Microfiction counts, so I’m excited to monkey around with that […]

  • Debi O'Neille, writing against the wind

    Brevity is divine–that’s what a college professor always told his students. I try it, but then I have to be careful that I don’t strip the very meat from a story that made it a unique story. 🙂

    • thefallenmonkey

      Sorry I’m so late to respond to this, Debi! Have been a neglectful monkey. You make a great point about stripping a story to its bones and depriving it of texture and joy. There is something to be said for elaboration. Thanks so much for popping by, and I hope to be back with new posts before long!

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