Sunday, 14 November 2010

Memories and Empty Spaces

The older I get the more my memory becomes full of empty spaces...

Space is an interesting concept. Particularly empty space. Whether that be outer space or not. You can fill empty space with all kinds of things. But you can also just tell people something is there and let them fill it with their worst fears. Some of the best monster films hardly show the monster at all.

But what if all the space out there that is reassuringly full of stuff became suddenly empty?

I wrote This Empty Space months ago, as I did with all of these 'lost and found' pieces, so it's very odd that it happened to come up for posting the same weekend as the deadline for a micro-horror competition with the theme of 'space'... (Although I actually bumped it off Halloween Sunday for cowboys and zombies)

You can see a little experimental style coming in with This Empty Space, with the two longer paragraphs focussing on a character each. It feels a little odd to have such big paragraphs in such a small piece, but I think it works ok. The more I think about the story, the more I think it is quietly terrifying. Never my intention, and not because everything has disappeared, but because the last humans (under the best intentions) are just left drifting forever in cryo-sleep (or suspended animation, whatever), never to wake again, never to die but never to live.

We go to sleep every night relatively assured that we will wake up the next morning. I should think if they ever invent some kind of suspended animation then it will become a genuine phobia for some people in not knowing if they will be awoken on time. A sort of existential fear of re-awakening well past your due-date. (covered in various SF films/ books already, I know)

One of the interesting things about the advancement of technology is that we fit more and more into less and less space. Particularly when it comes to data and data storage. The inspiration behind These Memories.

It's a story, or at least the kernel of a story, a key piece in the jigsaw. It's about so much being so little, and whether worth should be judged by size. It is less than one hundred words. Ninety-seven to be precise, or ninety-nine with the title.

Is there a term for a story in just a hundred, or do I lump it in with all the other stories of less than two thousand? Why do I even say ‘less than two thousand’. That’s an odd number isn’t it? Most of the Missing Pieces are less than a thousand. But since micro-fiction, as I see it, should be ‘about a thousand words’, that sometimes means more than a thousand... Micro-fiction or flash fiction or nano fiction or whatever nomenclature you choose (and it is your choice).

Is it a discipline to write to a specific word count? Certainly I could have tweaked this to hit exactly one hundred words.

If you’re writing to a specific word count, it can be restrictive. I write 100 word book reviews for a magazine... and as you might guess from my longer reviews on Space-Time Industries it's often a difficult task to cut it down so much, you definitely lose a lot. But then for the purposes of the magazine it's needs to be that short. From my experience stories have a natural size. Trying to bulk a story up often results in it being dry and too slow, trying to cut it back can make it seem too choppy and disjointed.

Obviously there are times when editing up or down is necessary, when you want those kinds of effects, when the word length interferes with the pace or tone. I’m talking about editing purely for the sake of word count though, and I don’t think it’s so much a discipline as an affliction, or an excuse. If you can, through harsh editing, keep all your stories below a thousand words, is that a good thing? If you get it to a thousand words, spot on, does that mean it's finished and as good as it can be?

I don’t think so. If the story is better for it, then great, it needed that editing anyway. But if you’re cutting some vital flourish, some depth, purely for the sake of word count, then maybe you’ve just pruned the life out of it.

One thousand and three great words is better than a story missing three words that it needs.

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