Chipping Toward the Center: The Art of Brevity

September 7, 2009 § 6 Comments


From Amanda Fields, whose essay appears in Brevity 30:

In “Cairo Tunnel,” I wrote about a positive experience on the Metro. Other things happened in the space of that event, so I had to make thematic decisions, removing details that still seem poignant. I had to whittle the piece even more when I decided to submit it to Brevity. This exercise helped me pinpoint what was most essential about the piece, and it is this sensation of chipping away toward the center of the piece that I enjoy most about writing nonfiction. For instance, I removed a man who harassed me that day. He had followed me to the Metro with polite, proprietary creepiness; when the doors slid shut and I looked out the window, I saw the man standing just outside. He blew me a tender kiss, as if we were sweethearts, and I got a hard feeling in my gut, and it slid up to my head, where I conjured a satisfying vision of knocking out that man’s teeth. This sort of behavior is something that women in Egypt endure daily. In the end, though, that man represented an element of Cairo beneath which the reality of women, and discussions about women, too often disappear. He had little to do with the warmth and the curiosity of those women on the Metro. The women on the Metro were what mattered in the end, and the details about sexual harassment would have overshadowed that moment. Brevity forced me to make this choice.

Tagged: , ,

§ 6 Responses to Chipping Toward the Center: The Art of Brevity

  • kate says:

    Amanda, I really love this: “This exercise helped me pinpoint what was most essential about the piece, and it is this sensation of chipping away toward the center of the piece that I enjoy most about writing nonfiction.”

    I’d read an earlier version of this piece on your blog, and I agree that what you’ve done in the revision is to chip away the excess until you revealed the piece’s heart. I love it!

  • Kevin Fenton says:

    Amanda–I’ve spent the labor day weekend with my memoir manuscript and that is precisely what was bedeviling me–detail which was valuable but not quite relevant. But I also experienced the pleasure of solving a piece, of looking at it for the first time in months and realizing what it was really about.

  • Your story catches such a nice moment, and it builds toward it, moving from sourness and weight to the solidarity and lightness captured by the laughing and by the wonderful image of the girl who “gets spun in a circle as easily as a rack of clothes, her braids flying.” In such a concise piece, it does seem that the creepy man would burden the scene, throw off its main point. In a longer version, I can see how the man might be important to underscore the climax and its resolution. He’s a part of the unpleasant but ultimately irrelevant burdens of the physical world that the women can only laugh at and by doing so transcend.

    • Gayle Early says:

      Amanda, now I want to read the main essay. Yes, that painstaking selection of details. I’ve added and subtracted and readded numerous times. It’s so difficult to subtract, even when it makes the piece stronger, better.

  • […] of this blog is to present you, the reader, with essays. But I also really enjoyed Amanda’s discussion of her writing process on the brevity blog. Amanda talks about how the word count limit made her cut, which usually (but not always) makes […]

  • […] of this blog is to present you, the reader, with essays. But I also really enjoyed Amanda’s discussion of her writing process on the brevity blog. Amanda talks about how the word count limit made her cut, which usually (but not always) makes […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading Chipping Toward the Center: The Art of Brevity at BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog.

meta

%d bloggers like this: