Flash Fiction: The Shorter Essay

by Chris McGinty

He just had to condense what he wrote. In the hour that he was in the zone, he wrote 1,200 words for an essay that was supposed to be 500 words or fewer. It was time to start again. He was sure he could rewrite it and only the important points would surface this time. He started writing. An hour later he realized he was in the zone again. He wrote 1,100 words this time. He cut a huge aspect of the original essay, but managed to bring more detail to the other parts. So he tried again. This time it was 1,000 words. He could see the pattern. As he became tired he wrote fewer words. He started again. An hour passed. He had 1,150 words. This wasn’t working as he planned.

He texted his instructor: “Is it really a bad thing if the essay is longer than 500 words.” In almost every case, it would be a minimum of x words, but the text came back: “It must be 500 words or less. That’s the nature of the assignment.” He muttered, “Fewer,” to himself wondering who was the educated one.

He grabbed the 1,000 word version. He printed the essay and took a pair of scissors to it, literally cutting it in half. He would stick only to that part of the essay. By the time he was done, to make that half work, he wrote 950 words. This time he took all the versions of the essay and printed them all out. He cut out everything he had written on two of the aspects of the subject, and arranged them on the table. He would just write about those two aspects. An hour later, he was amazed to find that once again he had over 1,000 words. This was stupid. It made no sense.

He went “full cut up” and cut one page in fourths. He rearranged the pages into new sentences and transcribed them directly. All he did was revise the sentences to make it factually correct and coherent. So why is it that when he was done he had 800 words? He was on the right path though. There was only one more thing to try.

He printed out all of the essay attempts. By this point it was a lot. He had to change ink cartridges twice, because in addition to printing all of them, he also printed them in a large font. He spent the next two hours cutting out each individual word. He mixed them up in a bag and drew out 490 words. He rearranged these 490 words on the table and then transcribed them directly until with only a little bit of quick reworking; he had an essay of 497 words. He printed it and turned it in the next day. He got a C+. At that point, he was fine with it.

Chris McGinty is a flash fiction writer who is somewhat laughing to himself because the rough draft of this story came in at exactly 500 words. I’m not making that up to be funny. It actually happened that way. I’m reluctant to try to edit or rewrite it at this point…

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