There’s a reason this essay is a rather short one, which will become clear. The writer, Claire Hopple, specializes in making every single word count. This is the first in a new Change Seven series where an author discusses how they view the work of writing. ~editor’s note
I’ve always been drawn to technique, dialogue, and character development. Plot doesn’t really matter to me. Every single word should be there for a reason. We don’t need to know the color of a sweater or whether it’s drizzling outside unless it’s actually relevant to the story. Economy of words is an art in itself. This style is what I like to read, and it’s what I aim to write.
But this approach is clearly preference. There’s a reason that mass-market bestsellers have historically been dramatic, descriptive tomes, even if that doesn’t really speak to me. They’re often Thanksgiving turkeys gutted and stuffed with spices (trite phrases) and ingredients (white-water-rapid style narrative arc) intended to create a fuller flavor, and that works for a lot of people. That sells.
I’m interested in serving a population that’s been mostly overlooked. More than anything, I want my writing to be relatable. Tired People Seeing America, my recent short fiction collection, in particular features historical reenactors and water bed owners and professional mermaids grappling with the postmodern American landscape and how it affects personal identity. It’s written for fellow writers, but also “non-readers,” or those who have a difficult time focusing. Our collective attention span isn’t getting any longer, and there’s enough entertainment out there to distract. Distraction isn’t what I’m after. Rather, cultivating an experience that awakens the neurons. Everyone is a reader — whether or not they’ve found the right material is the real question.
What that looks like: I edit as I’m writing down a bullet point of an idea. Then I edit it again later in my notebook. And then I edit as I form it into a cohesive story or chapter, only to read over it once again and…yup…edit it once more. Then I type it out into a Google doc, editing as I go. Then I print it out and edit some more. My first reader, aka husband, takes a pen to it after that. The process may sound arduous, and it can be, but I don’t really touch the prose much once it’s over.
Reading books from talented writers is crucial, obviously. The work of Amelia Gray, Scott McClanahan, Deborah Eisenberg, Sam Pink, Laura van den Berg, Zach VandeZande, Tao Lin, Denis Johnson, John Edgar Wideman, Joan Didion, and Christopher Merkner were inspiring during the writing of this book. Everyone needs a handful of stories to reread right before they write in order to get in the proper headspace, and my selections change somewhat frequently. I’m thankful for writers who know what they’re doing, and I try to make it known.
Claire Hopple is the author of Tell Me How You Really Feel (forthcoming), Tired People Seeing America (2019), and Too Much of the Wrong Thing (2017). Her fiction has appeared in Hobart, Heavy Feather Review, People Holding, Timber, and others. She’s just a steel town girl on a Saturday night. More at clairehopple.com.