As the writing group presses forward to find a publisher for our short story anthology, a discussion about writing them spawned the idea about bite-sized morsels of reading—something that can be quickly consumed on a lunch break, or on the bus or train. This was not something we considered when we began our project. Instead, the short story format with a three thousand word limit was selected as an exercise to hone our story crafting.
Regarding this new discussion, my initial reaction was one of indifference. The scene dictates the length., I thought. The author begins with an idea of what is going to happen, and leaves it to the organic nature of writing to bring it to life. Sometimes, the amount of prose is not what was envisioned. As the discussion continued, it seemed that this concept might have some merit.
Might an author break that scene into smaller bits, hopefully to build tension? This could work if done very well, but when done continuously, it becomes annoying. The writer, instead, could plan out the narrative in smaller chunks at the outset, each episode moving toward the conflict or resolution phase of the narrative, and hopefully sound natural. Again, it can work if done very well.
What about letting time dictate the length? Is it possible to write a pleasing piece tailored to the reader’s consumption limits? I see how this structure could be appealing for a voracious reader. The small bites make it possible to start and stop when those brief snippets of time permit. But does this matter? Can a fractured construction be compelling when a reader can drop a bookmark, be it physical or electronic, to mark his place. Then again, someone that avid would simply read on until the absolute last moment when the book must be put down, or she passes out.
Would I use it? It would depend on the story I was trying to tell. Nothing on my present slate beyond a few short stories lends itself to such a tight format. Nevertheless, this would be a writing exercise, just to see how it works, and who knows what that might inspire.