This week we studied the importance of using concrete, vivid, significant detail–including concrete objects–in creating short prose works that invite the reader’s participation. Too much detail, the reader can’t imagine; everything is given. Too paltry, or too familiar, or too abstract a collection of details, and the reader likewise can’t summon up a mental experience of the scene at hand. As Samuel Delany said in his craft book About Writing, our job is to elicit the reader’s memory so that the reader has a mental experience of the prose. McCloud talks about this with the concept of closure, and Burroway and Baxter offered specific tips as to how to create that mental experience for the reader through specific, evocative concrete objects and details.
Write an Exercise (a short story) of 400-500 words that centers on a concrete object. The object should 1) carry emotional significance that is not named, and 2) be put into play in the scene, changing as the scene unfolds. It is probably best if you use a concrete object with which you have some experience, so you can evoke its salient sensory qualities for your reader. Ideally, the object should 3) embody the central conflict of the story, as the pumpkins do in Robison’s “Yours” and the goose does in Babel’s “My First Goose.” Please remember that all stories need to have conflict. The character needs to have a desire, be confronted with an obstacle to that desire, and act to satisfy that desire, as we see in “My First Goose” with the killing of the goose to gain social acceptance. Try to include at least one moment of “closure” for your reader (in the McCloud sense, not in the sense of how you end a story). Keep the subjects of sentences concrete and active, and keep the subjects close to the verbs. Pretend you have to pay $20 for each adverb you use, and $5 for each adjective, so make them count. Be sure your story has a beginning, middle, and end, but try to start as close to the peak action as you can, and remember that an ending can offer a slight shift vis-a-vis where the piece started (the ending doesn’t need to be overly dramatic, and probably can’t be in 400-500 words).
Please do not exceed the length limit, as the limit is present so that all Exercises can receive generous and timely feedback. You will have a chance to expand later, and concision is a real virtue in Sudden Prose! (Most word processing programs offer a “word count” tool, or you can copy paste the text of your story here, at wordcounter.net, and get a word count that way.)
I look forward to reading your Exercises!
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