What is missing for me in the 250 of “The Poet” is the clearly stated promise/hook to the reader. In both the 500 and the 1000, there is the line “I didn’t know if I could tell him” and while the 250 dances around that idea, (I had never told him, I couldn’t tell him) it doesn’t make the reader question, lean forward in their seat, and clench their own fists. WILL the character tell dad is a much stronger hook, to me, than being told from the get go that he won’t, can’t, hasn’t, and never will. In your self-critique of the 500 of the piece, Wulf, you pointed out that the line is the reader promise, the undercurrent of the story. I think it’s missing in the 250. I also think “Last Words” is a much more poignant and appropriate title than “The Poet” because it is a sort of hook in itself. Finally, I felt like the opening of the other two grounded the reader much more quickly in the hospital with the dying dad, where in the 250 it was much further down in the story.
Good luck to everyone still editing and/or writing. You’ve got DAYS yet.
All good points, Becky. These are subtle things, but note how some wise edits--not total rewrites, just tiny tweaks--can make a story much stronger. I did realize I could up the tension (hook), by keeping the TOUGH CHOICE undecided until the very end. And I decided the original title was factual--readers would receive what it promised--but it was too bland, whereas with a change, I could up the tension before a reader even began to read, and also cue that this story would be a tragedy.
The beauty with more space as I expanded back up is that I could embellish the setting, and code it with symbols that would set tone for the ending. Less is more, but you need enough details to ground the reader in your environment so that they will be inspired to see your vision, without needlessly cluttering the scene. Novice writers will either not give enough setting, or will totally bloat their setting, giving so many extraneous details the story dies on delivery.
That said, this was an award-winning story even at 250 words in an international contest filled with pro writers. It took first for the week against 500-700 entries. It took Top 10 for the year against 26,000 to 30,000 total entries. It works. It did its job as a 250 word story. Had I done more scene setting, I would have had to take something else out, things necessary to establish both the relationship between father and son, the problem, and the powerful conclusion. The great thing was when I was asked to expand it and submit it to The Rose And Thorn
, seeing my story so concentrated down to the essential elements really helped me identify my theme, and how I could strengthen my theme. When I expanded up, I had a clear map of what I needed to do to keep every word focused on that powerful ending. That is an advantage of this exercise. It's not just about cutting words.
There is still one thing everyone has missed so far that is not in the 250, but I discovered was essential when I expanded up. It is an important element to any story, and one we haven't talked about yet. I thought Becky for sure would catch it--she has a strong editor's eye. I will give you a clue, and it's from The Hero's Journey.
Also, I have a reward for those of you that shared in this that meet the following qualifications: 1. You signed on and are listed on the SUPER SECRET Challenge roster, and, 2. You submitted a work to any of the three phases of this KILL YOUR DARLINGS: Economy of Words Exercise. It's the flash story that won grand prize for the year in this international competition. Private message me if you'd like to receive it.
As to Q3, you have until Midnight this Sunday to submit. My winner was subbed at 11:56 pm last day of the last quarter of the year. I don't recommend it, but do what you must to get a story in!