Every now and then when I am getting a piece critiqued by one of the Fairfield Scribes I'll see the comment, "Malkovich".
We started using this comment after the movie Being John Malkovich came out. In it a puppeteer (played by John Cusack) finds a strange portal that takes him right into the back of actor John Malkovich's head.
What they are telling me is I have created an unnecessary distance between the writer and the story. For example, say you are reading a drabble that has,
"Jane went to the gym. Jane watched as her ex, Richard, sat on the ab crunch machine she wanted to use and ate a donut."
With the first sentence the author has already put the reader inside the perspective of Jane. There is (usually) no need to tell us "Jane watched" in the second sentence. The first issue is the author wants to limit their drabble to 100 words. Those are three "filler" words that are not adding value to the story that could have been better used for something else. The second issue is it distances the reader from Jane. You want the reader feeling like she is Jane, not feeling like a puppeteer who is watching Jane watch Richard.
So whenever you feel like your character is a bit distant in your writing, look for any "observer" words that are making your reader feel like they are being John Malkovich.
This was from a FB post by Ed Ahearn, Managing Editor for Fairfield Scribe's Microfiction about a month ago. With his kind permission, I am reprinting it here.
Three of my poems are running this month in Verse Virtual, and Tom Montag, a poetry teacher commented on them. I'd like to claim that I'd carefully parsed out the endings, but it was mostly fumble-feel: When I teach, I like to tell students that when ending a poem they need to (to use a term from gymnastics) stick the landing. What do I mean? The last line(s) have to sound as if something is concluded, often with the broadening of vowels, repetition of sounds, and stresses adjacent to each other.
And already in poems at the beginning of the December of Verse-Virtual issue, I find good examples of poems which do this, and do it well. In Ed Ahern's "Putting it in Context," the overall architecture of the poem is shaped by the repetition of "I come from..." and at the end this changes to "I arise each day...." The final lines are: I arise each day content to abide in the dog's breakfast I come from There is the chime here of the long i in "arise" and "abide;" the long e in "each" and the long a in "day"; the chime of the "con" in "content" with "come"; the chime of m's in "come from"; and the adjacent stresses in the last line with "dog's break-" and "come from." You feel the landing. The last lines of Aherns' "The Lead Stereos" read: leaves us all with little sense of permanence and place. The first thing I notice: the long e of "leaves" and the long a of place. There is the chime of "sense" and "permanence." There is the repetition of p in "permanence" and "place." Again, you feel the landing.
What is a drabble and why are they great for improving your writing?
Drabbles are a form of microfiction that is exactly 100 words. At Fairfield Scribes Microfiction, we've loosened it up a little and consider any fictional short story, creative nonfiction story, or poem from 90 - 110 words.
Drabbles are a great way to focus on a particular technique in story-telling. For example, say you rely too heavily on visual elements in your story telling and decide to try and incorporate the sense of smell into your work more. Writing a short piece (and then submitting it to us at the Fairfield Scribes after you are done of course...) that relies on smell to drive the story forward where you only have 100 words will force you to remove anything extraneous and rely on your new technique.
The thing to remember with drabbles is to focus on one core idea and figure out a limited number of storylines (I try to use one or two usually) to drive your plot.
Sounds easy? Maybe, but it is a challenge to craft a tightly focused story. For example, this post is twice as long as what we would accept for submission at the link below: