Flash Exercise: Cut It In Half

Going Short Front CoverMagic Trick: Cut It in Half

Excerpted from Nancy Stohlman’s Going Short. For more, see our interview with Nancy.

Writers aren’t always sure what is and isn’t necessary in their work, especially since they’ve lovingly crafted every word. Each story will ultimately tell you what it needs, but a great exercise to make that clearer is to cut your story in half. (Pause for protests…!) Yes—cut it in half. If it’s 700 words cut it to 350. If it’s 100 words cut it to 50. And then, if you are brave, cut it in half again. You don’t need to keep the new version (although often people like the new version(s) better) but it WILL clarify whether your story needs a chip or a chop. Or both. And in some cases you will end up with two (or more) stories that stand equally well.

Observe:

Death Row Hugger

by Nancy Stohlman

[238 words]
For some reason it’s always at night. It’s always in the same room, the light is always jaundiced. The room smells musty, like wet clothes were shoved and left to die in all the corners.

I guess I was destined for this job. My parents weren’t the hugging type, so I’ve always had a malnourished craving for arms around me. I started out as a professional baby cuddler for the preemie babies in the NICU; each night after visiting hours, I settled into the wooden rocking chair with these miniature babies and their ancient, sculpted faces and whispered of a future when they would be strong and full sized.

But nothing could prepare me for being a Volunteer Hugger on Death Row. You enter that holding room, and there they are, trying to enjoy their steaks or lobsters or Cuban cigars or whatever. My job is to hug them just before they take that long walk. It’s not a sexual hug, though I have felt a few erections, and a few have tried to kiss me, but I politely turn my cheek and squeeze them harder. Because there’s this moment in the hug, you see, where it goes from something awkward and obligatory to when they melt into my arms, weeping with their bodies if not with their eyes. Every now and then I hear one of them whisper in my ear, and once one called me Mama.

[127 words]
It’s always at night. The light is always jaundiced. The room smells musty, like wet clothes were shoved and left to die in all the corners.

I guess I was destined for this job. My parents weren’t the hugging type, so I’ve always craved arms around me.

But nothing could prepare me for being a Volunteer Hugger on Death Row. There they are, trying to enjoy their steaks or lobsters or Cuban cigars or whatever. And there’s this moment in the hug, you see, where it goes from something awkward and obligatory to when they melt into my arms, weeping with their bodies if not with their eyes. Every now and then I hear one of them whisper in my ear, and once one called me Mama.

[67 words]
It’s always at night. The light is always jaundiced. The room smells musty, like wet clothes were shoved and left to die in all the corners. There they are, trying to enjoy their steaks or lobsters or Cuban cigars. And there’s this moment in the hug where it goes from something awkward and obligatory to when they melt into my arms, weeping. Once one called me Mama.

For more, see our interview with Nancy Stohlman.

3 Responses to “Flash Exercise: Cut It In Half”

  1. Roger says:

    The Goldilocks version strikes a nice balance. I like a single page story. Single in the scriptwriter’s sense. About 250 words or a minute read. Right-sized for Chekhov’s gun.

  2. jfx mcloughlin says:

    Nope, The 67 version left out this key element:
    “being a Volunteer Hugger on Death Row”

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