There are many blogs out there advising writers “How to write”. When I started this blog, I wanted to include post like that but I also wanted to include posts of a more philosophical nature on writing – more “Why we write” than “How to write”. And how our writing can reflect the world around us. This post will look at one aspect of that, something I call “Fragments”.
What are fragments, you ask? A fragment can be anything: a short poem, a haiku, a short piece of music, a piece of flash fiction, a short video – anything that can be read or listened to or watched in two or three minutes. And why do I want to talk about fragments. Because I’ve been thinking about them a lot lately.
Whether we like it or not, our world is speeding up. Whether it is true in actuality or not, people SEEM to be moving faster, trying to get more done in less time. People simply don’t have the same amount of free time as they had before. People have shorter attention spans. I don’t say this in a negative sense, merely as a fact. People have less time to look at things. So what does this mean for those of us who create art? This is where fragments come in. People don’t have time to watch a 60 minute video on YouTube but they might have time to watch a two or three minute video. People don’t have time to read a 10,000 word short story but they might have time to read a 500 word piece of flash fiction.
I won’t claim to be the first person to talk about this idea. “I believe that today more than ever a book should be sought after even if it has only one great page in it,” wrote Henry Miller in his 1934 novel Tropic of Cancer. “We must search for fragments, splinters, toenails, anything that has ore in it, anything that is capable of resuscitating the body and soul.”
One of Franz Kafka’s most famous novels was apparently in a similar vein:
“With The Trial, Kafka, knowing his tendency to digress, began by writing the first and last chapters … and then wrote the rest, putting each chapter into a folder and indicating its contents but not its place in the sequence. Several chapters are unfinished, some of them incompatible with the action in the main body of the novel. English translations of The Trial that omit these fragmentary chapters make the novel seem more coherent than it really is. The order even of the completed chapters cannot be finally determined because the available indications contradict one another.”
(Kafka: A Very Short Introduction)
And in more recent times, Warren Ellis – the man who always has his finger on the pulse of popular culture – had this to say.
“I love print. I love magazines that commit and pay for long articles and long fiction. The web rewards neither approach. It’s a packeted medium, a surf medium. Short bursts are the way to go. The web isn’t a replacement medium — it’s “another” medium. Every day, millions of people download single lumps of data that take them three minutes to consume. They’re called mp3s. It’s a burst culture. Embrace the idea for a while.”
Writers are never going to stop writing short stories or novels but they can experiment with different types of writing that may reach an audience they might not have reached before. I tried something like this with an experiment I called “V-Fiction” – the merging of music, video and writing in to short one or two minute piece. I believe personally that this kind of experimentation is the way forward. As Warren Ellis says, “It’s not a replacement medium; it’s another medium.” And, as writers, we have to take advantage of any medium that may get our work out there.
I’ll be examining these issues in more detail in upcoming posts and I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below.
(Image: Click the pic for credits)