Well, I just signed up for Six Sentence Sunday, yet again, and I’m thinking about what I find so compelling about this exercise.
The opportunity to see the work of other writers. Most of the folks writing it are doing romance or erotica, genres that I would claim I don’t write, except… I want my romance threads to have the same compelling character as well-crafted romance, and my sex scenes to be as intense as great erotica. So there you go. Never say never, is a marvelous rule of life.
The quest for the six sentence snippet that will compel attention. And what do I look for? Elegant language, movement, a little twist at the end. Like a poem. Six sentences isn’t a lot of room, so it gets me thinking about editing. The pleasures of the knife are definitely an acquired taste, but once I’m done generating raw draft, and I’ve gotten my first-draft beta readers’ reactions back, then I start looking ruthlessly for what can be cut. And the six-sentence snippet is a really good place to start.
It reminds me of why I read poetry. As a novelist, I’m a long-form writer, but as a reader of poetry, I like the short form best, though not exclusively. Haiku would be the limiting case, and the quatrains of Emily Dickinson and Marina Tsvetaeva (so musical that they memorize themselves). What makes it poetry? Arresting language, compelling rhythm, brilliant images and music: which is to say, the requirements for scene-setting that doesn’t bore the reader with yards of “description.”
Borrow the techniques of dialogue from playwrights, and description from short-form poets, and I’m on the road to good novel-writing.
The joy of eavesdropping. What I’ve learned from reading other people’s Six Sentence Sunday postings is how much I fill in about a situation from overhearing a brief snatch of dialogue, or (in the case of description) an eyeblink glimpse of a scene. Some writers give context before or after the snippet, but I’ve taken to reading the snippet first, forming my own notion of what’s going on, and then reading the “front matter” or “back matter” to confirm.
Never apologize, never explain. At readings, I formed the habit of giving very brief or no introduction to work I read. The work should stand on its own without curator’s notes, and for the most part it does, even a six-sentence snippet.
And if the six lines don’t stand on their own, then that’s the time to take out the knife.