What I’ve Learned Writing for The Daily WTF

I’ve described writing IT stories for The Daily WTF, on more than one occasion, as akin to writing hard science fiction. Hard, in this case, means scientifically accurate, with some flexibility for storytelling (otherwise, it’s just realistic fiction!). You’re bound to the way that computers work — just as there’s no faster-than-light travel in hard SF, you can’t make a computer catch a human virus (unless you try really hard.) However, you can create fictional companies, even make up a computer application or two, so long as it could happen in real life.

Writing for The Daily WTF, most of all, has taught me how to write flash fiction. It was always my weak spot — I think in terms of tens of thousands of words, not dozens — and flash requires, above all, extreme economy. You’re 100 words over your limit? Cut that character! Trim that scene! remove that unnecessary transition! Refer to characters only by their last names! Anything it takes short of replacing the story with “funny stuff happened once.”

A lot can be told through suggestion, but it only works in the middle. Readers still want closure, so while that abrupt, Sopranos-style ending may tickle you silly, you won’t please anyone else. However, the right scene break, with a witty headline, can make your story read faster.

Word-for-word, you’ll be spending much more time editing than fiction for longer works. On a YA novel I’ve sent out for feedback, I spent a couple hours editing each chapter, which was 3K words on average. I can easily spend an hour trimming down a 300-word Code Screen of Death, making each word count.

It’s like tweeting. No one likes multi-part tweets, or tweets cut abruptly with a link to the rest of the message. So, you have to make those 140 characters work to your advantage! Imply the subject. Use single spaces between sentences. You may — heavens forbid — even have to lose an Oxford comma or two. It’s worth it for that perfect tweet, which like a haiku, resembles a beautiful gem or a fresh fallen acorn.

Flash fiction is still hard. I get assigned code or anecdote submissions for The Daily WTF, so half the work is done for me — I just write the story that illustrates the submissions in the best possible light. But my own ideas are still too big for their britches.

One thought on “What I’ve Learned Writing for The Daily WTF

  1. Keep it up, Erik. I’ve enjoyed you Daily WTF posts since you started. Plus nice blog post as well. Short, economical and to the point. Flash blog? ; )

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