When Writing Short Is Long Enough.
February 2, 2014
There was a time in my life when my prose was colorful.
Mostly it was purple.
I wanted to paint word pictures.
I thought that was the classic way of writing.
I never used one adjective when two would work better.
And if I could find a way to slide in a third adjective, I wouldn’t hesitate.
I could write a whole chapter about the beauty of a sunset.
In fact the sun would rise and set before I finished sundown.
Then something happened.
And I don’t know why.
My writing changed.
My style changed.
I began writing short.
I didn’t sit down one morning, stare down at my keyboard, and say, “Well, I think that sentence would work better if it were shorter.
But there they were.
Scattered on the page.
Jump into the story.
Leave when the story is told.
I no longer wrote a chapter describing the sunset.
I merely wrote: “The sun fell red like blood beyond the trees and into the river.”
I didn’t need to write a thousand words to describe the sun going down.
We’ve all seen it go down.
We know how it looks.
We know what it does.
More and more, I began to embrace the admonition that’s it’s best to enter a story late and leave early.
Others in the writing profession apparently agree with me.
However, it’s far more likely that I agree with them.
As August Wilson said, “The simpler you say it, the more eloquent it is.”
And Josh Billings pointed out, “There’s a great power in words if you don’t hitch too many of them together.”
Even Thomas Jefferson had an opinion: “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.”
As far as Baltasar Gracian was concerned, “Good things, when short, are twice as good.”
John Rushkin believed, “Say all you have to say in the fewest possible words, or your reader will be sure to skip them, and in the plainest possible words or he will certainly misunderstand them.”
Said Diderot: “Pithy sentences are like sharp nails driving truth into our memory.”
Mark Twain warned, “As to the adjective, when in doubt, strike it out.”
And Friedrich Nietzsche summed it up by writing: “It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book.”
When it’s all said and done, however, I prefer the insights of Arthur Plotnik and Robert Southey.
Said Plotnik: “You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what’s burning inside of you. And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke.”
Southey then drove the point home: “It is with words as with sunbeams. The more they are condensed, the deeper they burn.”
That says it all.
No need to write anything more.
And let Southey’s words burn.
Please click the book cover image to read more about Caleb Pirtle III and his books. Secrets of the Dead represents his new writing style: short and to the point. He hopes the words burn.