October 20, 2011 by The Citron Review
Control, subtlety, and power.
Anyone can put words on a page, but it takes a master to find the right ones, to take the time to measure which fit well, which fit better, and which will transcend simple ink on page, characters on screen, and become something more—an ideal, an emotion, a visceral response to a shared experience. How do you establish control? Tight prose. Every needless word must go. At The Citron Review, we honor precise, efficient prose. While we often take submissions of up to 1000 words, most stories that find a home in our pages are far below that. A writer who can announce their authority from the first line establishes a bond of trust. With that in mind, I judge heavily on the first line. Make it good. Make it worth my time. If you can’t, I wonder if you’ll ever be able to do so.
This control is further established in the final line. Think of them as bookends. Both must be strong and hold up whatever comes between them, no matter how bulky and weighty. The final line is our payoff, it is our reward for reading what you’ve submitted from beginning to end. And, when we arrive at the end, we should feel as if you were in control the entire time.
Control, however, can be tricky to establish in this regard: You demonstrate the most control when you remove yourself from the story. I’ve read far too many submissions detailing personal experiences that have been hyperbolized with melodrama. This feels very much like a child manipulating a parent—predictable and irritating. If you want me to feel a certain emotion, don’t brow-beat me into it, don’t tell me to be sad, and please don’t show me 800 words on the depths of a character’s particular sorrow.
Instead, give me a terse, cold description—the images of sadness without the interior monologue, and without the hyperbole. Use strong nouns and verbs. Pick the right words and let them do the work. In this way, you become invisible to the reader, and only the story, the experience, remains.
Subtlety is the tool you use to achieve this powerful writing. It is the key to clearly demonstrating your ability while remaining invisible. Few readers wish to see the writer, they’d rather see what was written—the creation rather than the creator.
It may sound contradictory, and that’s perfectly fine. The juxtaposition of investing yourself in a story by removing yourself from it challenges several writers. But those who can achieve it are the ones who find a home within our pages.
Aaron D. Gansky
The Citron Review