Join me in this live two-hour class and discover why less can be more in your creative writing, and how you can apply the principles and aesthetic of brevity to anything from a short story to a novel that contains thousands and thousands of words.
I’m Grant Faulkner, and I want to invite you to my upcoming two-hour class, Five Things I’ve Learned about the Art of Brevity.
How did a writer (me) immersed in a lifelong training regimen to be a novelist find his aesthetic (and find himself) in brevity?
Like many, when I first became a writer, I thought the end goal of writing was that big behemoth of a saga called the “Great American Novel.” I found myself working on a long novel for nearly 10 years when I surreptitiously discovered 100-word stories and decided to take a break from my longer work and replenish my creativity by writing shorter pieces that would give me the satisfaction of completion and the momentum of publishing them.
I learned that the short form is beguiling. Since it’s so short, it would seem to be easier, but in my initial forays I couldn’t come anywhere close to the one-hundred-word mark. At best, I could chisel a story down to 150 words, and I was so frustrated by the gobs of material I’d left out that I didn’t see a way to go farther. A mentor chided me to keep going farther, to trust that my story would actually get better as I cut it down.
I’d trained myself to write through backstories, layers of details, and thickets of connections, but the more I pared my prose to reach 100 words, a different kind of storytelling presented itself. The art of brevity. The art of excision. The art of compression. The art of omission. The art of spaces and gaps and breaths. The art of less
Such an art finds itself at the center of flash fiction, which is defined as a story under a thousand words and goes by many names, including “short-shorts,” “miniatures,” “sudden fiction,” “hint fiction,” “postcard fiction,” and “post-it fiction,” among others. Flash communicates via caesuras and crevices. There is no asking more, no premise of comprehensiveness, because flash fiction is a form that privileges excision over agglomeration, adhering more than any other narrative form to Ernest Hemingway’s famous iceberg dictum: only show the top one-eighth of your story and leave the rest below water to be conjured.
Novelists are taught to strap together crisscrossing tentacles of story lines and fill the capacious spaces of a novel’s pages with layers of details—to write with a sense of expanding, of putting bulk on a story’s bones—but writers need to know how to construct a story with less just as much as they need to know how to build a story with more. Life consists largely of isolated, disconnected moments. We live within what goes unsaid as much as what is said, so many stories demand to be told with less—of everything. To reveal a character’s essence through hints. To build suspense not through connections, but by what is left out. To let the reader fill in the gaps of a story by following a trail of implications.
In Five Things I’ve Learned about the Art of Brevity, I’ll discuss the style, the aesthetic, the discipline, and the craft of brevity. To write shorter pieces seems like it should be easier on the surface, but it’s not. With increased compression, every word, every sentence matters more. A writer has to learn how to privilege succinctness over any notion of comprehensiveness, to form narratives around caesuras and crevices instead of strings of connections, to move a story through symbolic weight.
In particular, here are five things I’ll discuss:
- Omission: how a story works with silences and the use of white space can work to enhance and amplify a story.
- Concision: how a writer must be like a master pruner, minimizing context, eliminating backstory, snipping connective tissue to allow a story to grow. A different type of creativity emerges within a hard compositional limit.
- Structure: how to plot in such a short form, to include only the essential elements of a story; how miniatures can hold a different kind of expansiveness, a “bigness” created by the suggestiveness of the smaller form.
- Collage: how brevity invites in elliptical contours that allow a story to be told through the amorphous structure of a collage, and how it invites in different forms, such as the “found object” of a to-do list, a letter of complaint, or an online review.
- Longer forms: how brevity works in longer forms, such as the novella and the “flash novel.”
My aim is that you’ll will leave this workshop steeped in ideas of how less can be more, and you’ll be ready to apply the principles and aesthetic of brevity to anything from a short story that is 100 words to a novel that is thousands of words.
I hope you’ll join me.