Monday 27 June 2022

How to Write as Little as Possible by Hazel Hitchins (with Claire Fayers)

 Recently, I attended a workshop on writing flash fiction run by my friend Hazel Hitchins, who writes ghost stories and has a talent for making your hair stand up in just two sentences.

 I’m used to spending 50,000+ words on a story so telling a story in 250 words was a challenge, and it was great fun to try. So much fun, in fact, that I asked Hazel to take over my blog post today and summarise her advice (in as few words as possible, of course.)

 Over to Hazel…

 It’s been called my “economy with language”, it’s been called “writing like I’m taxed on each word”, but either way it turns out that writing with brevity is my superpower. It’s not always a good thing - it made padding out the word count of various academic essays really quite tricky - but concise writing can be the perfect antidote to over-flowery prose that can detract from an otherwise cracking story (Mr. Dickens, Mr. Tolkien, I’m talking to you!).

What’s more, anyone can do it. All it takes is training, a strong constitution and a willingness to be brutal with the red pen. Don’t believe me? Try these tips and see how much you can streamline your work:



Consider how much detail you need to give to get the audience to the point where the action starts, for example: do they really need to know your character's full backstory? Is it relevant to the story you’re telling now? No? Take it out. Do they need paragraphs of explanatory text to explain the events leading up to the action? Not necessarily. In my short story “Scarecrow”, I start with the sentence:

 “In the days that followed the storm, the village licked its wounds.”

Job done. The reader is given a clear sense of the situation, and the setting, the atmosphere without the need for further exposition.



You know how I just told you to cut the backstory? Here’s the kicker - you still need developed characters and it is still important that YOU know your characters’ backstory and motivation, regardless of how much makes it onto the page.

Going back to “The Scarecrow”, for example, I know the main character and his wife didn’t have much money and I know that their wedding was a simple affair. I translated this to:

“Him in his too-tight Sunday suit. Penny in a borrowed dress.”



Words are wonderful and we have so many of them at our disposal. My final tip is to choose your words carefully. You want to create a series of strong images in the mind of your reader that will linger long after the final page is turned. To this end, be precise. For example, does your reader see “flowers at a funeral” or “lilies on a grave”? Do they “walk carefully along the uneven path” or do they “pick their way across the cobbles”?

 This is also where your skills at “show, don’t tell” come into play. In the example above, I show the comparative poverty of the characters through their clothes. This creates a strong image for the reader and means I don’t have to waste words explaining it. And as an added bonus, it furthers character development - triple whammy.



 Choose any 500 word scene from your work in progress and cut it down to 250 words. Think about the details you can lose without losing the sense of the story.



 Write a 250 word story on one of the following:

  •  An Unusual Birthday
  • Midnight Train
  • Borrowed Shoes

 Now cut the story to 100 words.


So, there you have it. My brief guide to brevity.

And now it’s over to you. Be brave, uncap that red pen and have at it…all you’ve got to lose is words.


Hazel Hitchins lives in south Wales with her husband, two children and nefarious cat. When she’s not writing children’s fiction about angry fairies or haunted houses, she writes fiction (usually with a supernatural twist) for an older audience under the name of Siwan Freeman. You can find her on Twitter as @writerandcat1 or Her book, The Missed Appointment (as Siwan Freeman), is available on Amazon.


1 comment:

Rowena House said...

Super advice! Must try those exercises, too. As a journalist, we used to have to be economical, so editing feels natural. But 250 to 100 words? Wow. Tough gig.