Monday, June 29, 2015

Long story short . . .

     Anybody who tells you, “Well, to make a long story short . . .” will invariably do just the opposite, talking on and on until your polite smile becomes a rictus and your eardrums are limp.

     It will make you appreciate those rare short speeches.

     In all my time of taking photos to accompany my magazine articles, I’ve seen few shots that could not be improved by cropping.

     And throughout a long lifetime of writing articles and fiction, I’ve produced little that could not be powered up and made more engaging by pruning.  Ruthless deletion of adverbs (those lazy ly-ended words that seem to sprout throughout our fields of exquisite exposition like weeds—tiredly, carefully, cutely, dejectedly, confusedly, serendipitously, expialidociously.  Banishing strings of mischievous adjectives that can so gang up on a poor simple noun they overwhelm it—“One dark, damp, humid, windy, hopeless, haunted, sleepless, nightmarish night, I . . . .”  Excising all unnecessary words and phrases and rearranging sentences to make them simpler.  And thus clearer.

     Nothing teaches you expertise in this area better than strict article or short story word limits.  When you have a 900-word story you want to enter in a 500-word-limit contest, or a 4,000-word magazine article your editor will reject if it’s not shrunk to 2,500 words, you might fume and curse, but you’ll find you can do it.  And later you’ll realize the writing is all the better for having undergone that life-saving surgery.

     From 1950 through 1997 Reader’s Digest Condensed Books came out with four to six hardcover volumes each year, each containing three to six abridged versions of current best-selling novels and nonfiction books.  Sold through direct mail, they were popular.  A 1992 volume, for example, contained Acts of Faith by Erich Segal, Hard Fall by Ridley Pearson, Bygones by LaVyrle Spencer, and The Stormy Petrel by Mary Stewart, all packed together in something like a fourth the total space the original books had apparently needed.

     Those editors were skilled, able to carve thousands of words out of best-sellers while preserving the essences and emotions therein.  I’ll bet in every case an author would have sworn her or his book could not be cut so drastically without damage.  And I’ll bet in every case that author was pleasantly surprised at the condensed result.

     The one criticism of my debut suspense novel, GUNS, in an otherwise glowing review by Publishers Weekly, was long pages of information-dumping the reader did not need to know.  I’ve since hung my head and revised my more recent Kindle and Create Space versions.

     I have lots more to say on this subject, but this entry’s already too long.


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