Tangled in Too Many Details: Katherine Gries on the Brevity Essay
March 15, 2010 § 4 Comments
Katherine Gries’ gripping essay “Not Like You” can be found in the most recent Brevity, Issue 32. Here, she discusses the process of writing a short-short nonfiction essay:
Yes, he went to prison. He spent more than twenty years incarcerated for this and other crimes, his conviction based partly on more than twenty hand-written pages of details that I remembered from the three hours I spent with him.
I started writing this piece as a personal essay for a journalism class. With a much higher word count, it seemed to ramble, veering off into a lament of facts and statistics: I was 22 years old and this was the third time I had survived a stranger rape; every two minutes, an American woman is raped; more than seventy percent of rapists know their victims, so why was this happening to me? I didn’t want my decades-old emotions to clutter the story. I became tangled in too many details. I abandoned the draft and turned in something else.
When the “write an essay for Brevity” assignment came up in my memoir class, I had an “Ah-ha” moment. The short-short genre demands attention to pacing, and slashes anything extra—coincidentally, the way I felt when these scenes were taking place, or in any emergency. You breathe. You move. You do what is demanded. You survive. And the short-short genre reduced a particularly heinous situation to precisely what it has become: a few paragraphs—not a chapter—from my life.
My thanks to Laurie Lynn Drummond (University of Oregon) for her belief in and support of memoir.