Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Brief and Bitter

A gentleman named Russel Bailey (no website, but I found - of all things - his LinkedIn profile) who goes on Livejournal and RPGnet as Emprint recently ran a contest on both RPGnet and Livejournal. He is a White Wolf developer with an interest in Sword and Sorcery, and the contest was very nifty.

The task was this: in 115 words or less, tell us why you are going into the dungeon.

I wanted to enter, but I never got around to it. My idea was terribly goobery. I was going to write the whole thing from the point of view of something going into the dungeon from beneath so it could reach the sunlit lands above. Thankfully, I never got around to writing my submission up, because the one that won was much cooler and I would have embarassed myself.

The winner - RPGnet's Old Geezer - doesn't have a website either, as far as I can tell, and I can't find the winning entry posted anywhere but RPGnet and Livejournal, so I'm just going to take the plunge and repost it here:

Because as a ploughman, Father's wage was six silver pence per year.

Thomas the Bastard and his friends went down last week. Two came back.

They had over twenty pounds Sterling between them.

I'll risk Death rather than spend my life grubbing in dung like my father.

What strikes you about this little piece of fiction? It's good, isn't it? Also, it's brief, evocative, brief, intense, and brief. Did I mention that it's extremely short? As in, the contest allowed for up to 115 words and Old Geezer used 48.

You see, if I had entered that contest, I'd have written 300 words and spent a week whittling it down to exactly 115, and then I wouldn't be quite satisfied with what I'd created. I am a long-form fiction man, and up till now I've been totally satisfied with it. I have written a novel that I'm quite fond of, after all, and I'll be even more fond of it after I edit it. I think it may even be publishable. However, A Knight of the Land is tens of thousands of words long. Old Geezer, on the other hand, used less than half of the words he was given and wrote something that blew my mind.

This is something to think about. There is a lesson for me in this: short and sweet wins the treat. I really can write something mind-blowing in a short story. It's possible to be cool and evocative with even a handful of words. The devil is in how.

In the spirit of short, however, this is a Wednesday post, so farewell.

* * *

  • What's the shortest fiction of quality you ever wrote?
  • Where else have you found similarly short, punchy fiction?
  • Do you also struggle with literary long-windedness? Do you also envy Old Geezer's well-earned victory? What do you do about it? What writerly practices help you hone your short fiction?
  • Oh, yeah - why are you going into the dungeon?

3 comments:

Scattercat said...

I voted for Old Geezer's, but I was really disappointed that I didn't even make it into the top ten.

And then Peter had no idea what was going on in the one I did come up with. So it's like a failure all around.

Mark said...

Hey, at least you got your act together to enter the contest. Better than I did!

tundra-no-caps said...

My problem is that I often can't write long. I can write short, I do not fluff it.

When I was younger, I was a master (for my age) of one-page fiction. Just don't ask me to keep it going.

My LJ has a couple of short pieces under Fiction that are Friend-tagged, homage to The Man with No Name. As my mom said, they have no "story". But I still think they rock ;)