Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Lessons From Hint Fiction

In a recent thread on the Absolute Write Watercooler, one of the posters mentioned using hint fiction for a December blog chain.  I'd never heard of hint fiction, so I tried the link provided in the thread.  The first thing I noticed is a six-word story attributed to Ernest Hemingway, "For sale: baby shoes, never worn."

First, ask yourself what comes to mind?  Beyond what the story is supposed to imply, what does this mean for writers?  To me, this seems like a good example of showing vs. telling.  It doesn't give all the details, but it provides a visual and direction with which a reader can draw a conclusion.  Now place something like that in a larger story and a more specific explanation becomes more clear.

Recently, I've seen some debate over the "show vs. tell" debate, and I have to agree that sometimes it's just more practical to tell.  I don't think I've read anything that shows everything, but if you get a lot of feedback recommending you're telling and not showing enough, try using some hint fiction as an exercise.

Second, word count.  Setting a target early in the novel isn't bad, but that has to be flexible.  In the example from the article, those six words say so much.  It's a good example that writers should focus just writing the story.  Make it as long or as short as it needs to be to tell the entire story - no longer or shorter.

I've talked to other writers who discuss and post about how they've only got 70,000 words but they "need" 80,000 or 90,000 to get published.  Let's put this in perspective.  What is most likely to happen when you add 10,000 - 20,000 words just for word count.  That's a 15% - 30% increase.  Adding that much just to meet a word count is likely to result in a watered down story.

Most writers I've spoken with say their early drafts are longer than the finished product, and they end up actually reducing in the edits.  If a story starts with a low word count, that just might be the way it's meant to be.  Remember what Michelangelo said about creating David.   "It is easy.  I just chiseled away what was not needed--and there was the statue!" 

I'll go out on a limb here and suggest the author has a better chance of getting published with 70,000 quality words than forcing his/her way up to a specific level to meet a word target and risk sacrificing quality.

No comments:

Post a Comment