Thursday, April 3, 2008

Excerpt 4 Kind of/Sort of... "We're Not Alone"

Below is a short scene written for Christine Elden's blog where she tempted all of us to write a scene involving (perhaps) a cave and something skittering across your MC's imagination. This was what I wrote...
Tristan knew she was safe, but the forest was a different place at night. In the dark, the once friendly trees turned to black, foreboding shadows with long, crooked fingers ready to snatch at her.

Somewhere from behind, Tristan heard a snap. She looked at Joe. He was sound asleep. She watched him jealously wishing she, too, could dream.


There it was again. Closer. The hair on the back of Tristan’s neck tingled. Tristan steadied her breathing forcing her ears to open wider, taking in more sound.


“Joe,” she whispered shaking off his dream. “We’re not alone.”

“Hrm,” Joe mumbled.


“Did you hear that?” Now Tristan was on her feet, her heart pounding. Joe was right beside her.

“It’s coming from over there,” Joe pointed to a dark, dank cave.
Why hadn’t they seen it in the light of day? If they had, Tristan would have felt brave with the sun on her side. But in the dark, who knows what was lurking there under the cover of night.
What I learned - It is very hard to tell a story, even just a scene, in 150 words! I am not a "short" writer. I like words. No. I love words and so I do not use them sparingly, but I hope I use them in a controlled way. When I originally wrote this scene is was almost 250 words. I don't feel cutting it to 172 words (I was still 22 words over) helped the scene. I actually think it hurt the scene. I lost a lot of the suspense and build-up.

I think writing something in 150 words is a good challenge and definitely has it's place. I just don't think it's place belongs in most scenes within a novel. That is NOT to say, there aren't always words to cut and paragraphs to tighten. There are! I cut words and tighten paragraphs and cut pages from chapters. You can just feel when a chapter is running too long and you can see when dialogue or a sentence is too long.

I'm up for a challenge and am not saying that we shouldn't all strive to write, short and concisely. But, I think it is also important to know when slashing a scene has turned it into a scene devoid of emotion, tension, props, build-up, motive, a small feeling of resolution, and that oh-so-important feeling of "On no, what's to come next" so your reader can't wait to turn the page.

Obviously, Christine's intention with exercises like this one is not to do the above in 150 words. Writing in 150 words does teach you to respect words, to be mindful of how many words you are using, and not to over-do it. It makes you ask yourself, "Is there another way I can say this in less words?" Like I saidm it is a challenge and I am grateful for it, because it opened my eyes to an emotion my novel is lacking - fear!

So keep 'em coming Christine! These exercises do for writers what scales and arpeggios do for musicians! They sharpen and hone.

Happy Writing Everyone!

Sheri ks, ks


Rebecca Gomez said...


I thought it was a pretty good scene. I agree that writing super short is a good exercise. It certainly helps us learn to write tighter, which is important whether a scene is long or short.

Because as much as we may love words, sometimes more words are just more words.

PJ Hoover said...

Very good scene!

I cut 200 "I think"s and "I felt"s tonight. Habit of mine I plan to break. Not only in my writing but in my speech (especially the "I think"s).

Does this sound like total blather?

Sheri Perl-Oshins said...

Becky, I know you know all about short, tight writing. Magazines only want that, right?

PJ, you made total sense LOL. We all have our habits and it is so good to be aware of them. Mine is beginning sentences with And and But. I like to break the grammar rules, but must do it only when absolutely necessary!

Anonymous said...

Yes, we learn to write tighter, which is a good thing. I love flash fiction, and writing it can be challenging.

Sheri Perl-Oshins said...

WE all have our strengths - I don't think flash fiction would be mine. But if anyone ever needed a story told in one run-on sentence...

No, I broke that habit, long ago! Really, I did...

Chris Eldin said...

Sheri, I loved that scene!
I'd be curious to see the original.

I agree that 150 is short. Perhaps I should give a range for these, like 150-250. I think that extra room is helpful.

I do love flash fiction though. I never thought I would. But have you checked out Jason Evans' contests? He posts a photo, then you write a piece in under 250 words. You should see what people come up with. (He's linked on my sidebar as Grizzly Adams. If you go to his site, peruse his sidebar for links to past contests.)

Anyway, thanks for writing this. Fear is hard to capture well. I'll revisit this, with more flexibility.

Sheri Perl-Oshins said...

Hey Christine,
Don’t change what you do just because of my whining! It is important to challenge ourselves. I mean, I would welcome the extra 100 words, don't get me wrong. But if you tell me 250, I will want 350, etc. You know like those picture books, if you give a mouse a muffin... if you give a writer a 250 words limit, she'll want a 350 word limit...

I have visited Jason's blog, but never when he's held a contest. I will have to go back and check it out.

So, let me just say, thanks for your contests. They really are great. You made me come up with this whole scene in my novel, which I would have never thought of if it weren't for you! :)

Sarah Hina said...

Great build-up of suspense, Sheri! I loved the line, Tristan would have felt brave with the sun on her side. You nailed that foreboding.

Flash fiction is so challenging. There is a huge difference between the writing in my last novel, and in my short vignettes. But, as you said, it's great practice and discipline. And I feel myself gravitating towards less complex sentences in my latest work.

Glad you accepted Chris's challenge! And I've missed coming by your blog. :)

Sheri Perl-Oshins said...

Welcome back! I am so happy you are here again.

Thanks for the encouragement. And I agree with you. I have been in novel writing for a year now, that it is hard to switch gears, but it is necessary, isnt' it, to be a well-rounded writer.

“Personal limitation exists only in our ideas of who we are. Give up all notions of who you are and your limitations will vanish.”

- Anonymous