The power of the short
Bear with me, the gratuitous Spring picture has a purpose and it's not just an excuse to ramble on about Wordsworth again.
Ok - it is a bit of an excuse but as this is about brevity I will be brief, which does not come naturally. And the Wordsworth part really is short and only comes right at the end.
Anyway - I'm currently about the third of the way through a Young Adult novel first draft - The Storm-chasers' Daughter and whilst it is infinitely easier than my first novel attempt - a fantasy epic with more characters than Vasily Grossman's Life and Fate - it is nevertheless a slight effort, to say the least.
As a result, I am enjoying a number of recent projects which are predicated on the idea they must be concise and yet still deliver an engaging experience. Two short films I have written, one a performance of a poem about my mother ('Breathing') and the other a longer piece (but still of only 7 minutes duration) called 'Out of your orbit' both seek to get ideas across through economy of language and action. They required an effort of a different sort. But, if ever an exercise reminded you of the old adage that 'less is more', then this was it. For 'Breathing', the few seconds of footage I shot at the beach of gulls lifting on the breeze, which appeared in the film alongside a line or two of verse, said as much about the revelation of my mother's loss and the breath of life than if I'd dedicated whole chapters to it.
I'm also working on a number of non-fiction books for primary age children for Harper Collins reading scheme, 'Big Cat'. Here, the challenge is to translate complicated science into a few words, labels and well-chosen diagrams and pictures. Reducing the phenomenon of the Aurora, for example, to a small pocket-sized book required me to get the science right but at the same time maintain that connection with young minds ever willing to turn to something more instantly appealing.
The thing about 'shorts' is - they don't have to be 'quick'. Perhaps the received wisdom - the Tik Tok angle, if you like - is that they have to grab and energise, produce sparks, laughter - perhaps anger. But there is virtue in the slow short (something I have talked about before). The child who stops to gaze at the beautiful images in 'The Amazing Aurora', to be published later this year, or the adult who finds stillness and beauty in a one-minute poem, are wielding a divining-rod into the same underground well.
There is an image in 'Breathing' which I filmed of water running in rivulets back and forth over the sand. Taken on my iphone in a few brief seconds and then cut down further in the director's edit, it nevertheless still runs on, ebbs and flows, within the mind. As Wordsworth said of his own short encounter with daffodils, recollected later - that brief moment lingers long in the memory, flaring up again when least expected:
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude.
So, too, these briefer pieces I have worked on. They may only last a few minutes but like every writer I hope that they flash brightly for time to come.
In short, 'shorts' do not have to be short.