clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Friday, September 26, 2014

Tight Lines

It's a fly fishing saying; "Tight lines."

Seems to work for writers, too.

In sailing, we say "under load" to mean a tight line. Not the same thing at all.

As a child in an occupied state, I recall a truck driving around with a large steel pole protruding vertically from the front bumper specifically to defeat "tight lines" -  lengths of thin wire strung across the road to decapitate passengers. The trucks patrolled to keep these sort of elements from injuring the civilians. Liberty: not a universally welcome ideal.

I'm writing shorts and "tight lines" are the ideal. There is a lot of casual writing that just will not do in a short. Every sentence has to pull at least its weight. A story full of sentences which only pull their weight are in a special class: unpublished.

In a good short - meaning one an editor said was good enough to print in his/her fee-to-read journal - most sentences have to do double duty. They have to do their job and part of the job of the one next to them.

If it all works well, at the end there is a whole landscape panorama of story in the reader created from a few brief slides snapped from the window of a moving car.

Something isn't clear to the reader from the staging of the dialogue and interaction? Well, a touch of exposition might work in a novel; but, it absolutely will not do in a publishable short.

I'm not a fan of Stephen King's novels.

I've read his stuff. I respect his accomplishments. I'm just not moved by most of  his long-form fiction.

I read one of his short stories first when I was in seventh grade.

"The Mangler."

This is an excellent short story and I believe it is in the short story that Mr. King excels. Maybe it is that I find his shorts so well crafted that his long form fails to deliver on the beauty I might otherwise expect of his work.

I don't want to see anything Scorsese paints either. I want to see his movie.

I've become lazy in working on the last two of my own long-form fiction drafts. My language in them is inexact and I am getting by on approximations rather than the precision the craft demands.

I love the short-story.

I know I must produce novels for commercial success. I am lucky in that I've no audience at all now. Lucky because I can work on seeding that audience. I can justify working on crime shorts of my own flavor.

If I were pulling the wagon as content mule and tied to a contract while trying to avoid the fate of cast-off mid-lister, then I could not spare the effort.

As it is, I can work on shorts and smile and be pleased that I'll have them in submission and soon, in print.

I'll be able to tell an agent I have published X and Y and Z in Fine Publication  while Exhalted Editor has encouraged me to submit future works to her journal via a hand-written rejections offering advice on future treatments ("hey kid: if you're going to submit work that stinks like this, please do so on 17"x 34" used fish wrap so that my intern staff can recognize its quality immediately and give it the treatment it deserves.")

Alice Munro winning the Nobel in literature did a bit for my ego this spring ... so there's that. Short story is an art form.

I've toyed with regret over not pursuing my writing as passionately as I could have - maybe - when I was younger. Without a couple of movie deals and the one-in-a-million commercial best-seller, I wouldn't be eating nearly as well.

But then, I'm spending my Friday night in my library with my foxhound working on a short story.

I'm pretty happy. Lou's chewing a bone and he seems pretty happy.

Now, better prose.

Take a wrap and tighten your lines, too.

Tight lines land more fish.


Christina James said...

You didn't say you had posted on this topic when you commented on my LitFest piece! How coincidental! Have tweeted this. :)

jack welling said...

Thanks for the comment and thanks for the tweet.

Now, to edit the post! I should get ahead of the curve when I compose these and to an edit cycle. I wrote this one with a foxhound trying to get in my lap.

Fairly normal. Maybe Lou will post today.

Bunny bunny bunny. Cat cat cat. Squirrel.