Only two weeks remain to submit to Indiana Review’s Half-K Prize Contest! But before you succumb to a series of massive panic attacks that leaves you sitting paralyzed in front of a blank Word document, take a second to gain some insight from this year’s judge, Dinty Moore.
Moore is the author of numerous books including the Grub Street Nonfiction Book Prize Winner Between Panic & Desire, and the editor of Brevity, an online magazine that accepts brief submissions of less than 750 words (sound familiar?).
He answered some of our questions about what makes a compressed story powerful and gripping—like a “cup of coffee five times stronger than the usual.”
Click here to read the entire interview with Moore!
IR: What are the challenges that accompany writing a compressed story or poem in under 500 words?
Moore: Most writers find writing the very brief piece even more difficult than writing at length. You need to a make every word, every image, every line of dialogue, do double or triple duty. Think of the short literary effort as a cup of coffee five times stronger than the usual.
IR: How can writers use the limited space effectively to create a moving piece of work?
Moore: Sometimes you have to write long to find the essence of a piece, and then start paring back. Any word that is not absolutely necessary has to go. Any description that is not crisp and compelling has to go. Combine what you can. Make each line or sentence glow with energy.
IR: What makes you put down a piece after the first 100 words?
Moore: As an editor, I stop reading when the prose is flat, or when I sense the writer “warming up” or clearing his throat before the story begins. I want to be thrust into the story and the language from the first words, not three or four sentences down the page.
IR: What sets a great piece apart from the others?
Moore: That’s a tough question, because art is elusive, but to me the best pieces have a sense of both the writer’s voice and personality, and they have an urgency, as if the story must be told.
IR: As both a writer and editor, what advice would you give to aspiring writers of compressed creative work?
Moore: Often beginning with a sharp, arresting image works well. You need all of the wheels in motion within the first two sentences or lines: the narrative, the metaphor, the sensory detail, the author’s voice. Make the reader hold her breath.