“Brevity is the soul of wit.”—Shakespeare
“I try to leave out the parts that people skip.” —Elmore Leonard
“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’. Your editor will delete it, and your writing will be just as it should be.” —Mark Twain
For a wordy bunch, writers sure talk a lot about not using words. Do we recognize it as self-indulgence? Is it because we love the sound of our own voice? Or rather, the look of our own words crawling across a page?
I’ve said it before, but writing for me is all about telling a story, and the worst thing that can happen to a good story is for it to drag on too long or include too many details. I don’t need to know all the details … get to the good stuff.
My dad tells a good story for a quiet guy, and I think the secret for him is two-fold. One, he doesn’t talk all that much, so when he opens his mouth, people listen. Two, his stories tend to be pretty brief. When I think about telling a story, I think about my dad, and I think as much about what I don’t want to say as what I do.
It’s the power of silence.
When we let our characters or our narrator be silent, it can be as powerful as the choicest phrase. Likewise, when something isn’t told explicitly in a narrative, Ithink it invests a reader in a way that spelling something out doesn’t. As a reader, I like having to figure things out on my own, so as a writer, I try to do the same. I hope I will always err on the side of telling readers too little, rather than too much.
That’s my take. What do you think?