It’s not a novel. It’s a story that took 300 pages to tell.

I don't need to spend a thousand words to describe a road cutting through the desert. Readers know what a road in the desert looks like.
I don’t need to spend a thousand words to describe a road cutting through the desert. Readers know what a road in the desert looks like.

I HAVE NO IDEA why writing styles change.

But they do.

For better or worse, mine have.

There was a time, I think, when my primary motive in a book was to create a mood and describe a location no matter how many words or sentences it might take.

I would write pages about a narrow road winding through a desert wasteland, and I gave you every nauseating detail: the dust in the air, the flowers amidst the weeds, the bugs on the weeds, the vultures circling overhead, the thirst of the land, the dust devil dancing toward the mountains, the heat of the August sun, the sweat rolling down my face, the dirt clinging to the sweat, the buzzing noise of mosquitoes congregating in my ears.

I didn’t leave anything out.

I don’t do that anymore.

I simply say the narrow roads winds through the desert.

Then I turn to the characters and let them tell a story.

I figure that readers know what a desert looks like.

They’ve driven through one.

They’ve seen one in National Geographic.

Their imagination kicks into gear, and, in their minds, they can envision a desert better than the one I would describe for them.

These are the times I agree with George Orwell.

And what were his words of advice?

Never use a long word where a short one will do.

If it is possible to cut a word, always cut it out.

Never use a foreign phrase, scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

I have read books sprinkled sometimes liberally with words I have to stop and look up, and it’s my opinion that the writer is merely showing off.

Never use a word that stops the story.

If a reader is stopped one too many times, he or she never comes back.

I also think writers should stop worrying about writing a novel. They envision three hundred pages to go, and it frightens them. It’s a long and daunting road to travel.

Instead, they should be interested only in telling a good story. If that story happens to take a couple of hundred pages to tell, so much the better.

The mystery novelist James Patterson has the right idea.

He said: “I’m always pretending that I’m sitting across from somebody. I’m telling them a story, and I don’t want them to get up until I’m finished.”

As William Strunk always said, “Vigorous writing is concise.”

Elmore Leonard took the thought one step further, admitting: “I try to leave out the parts that people skip.”

And Mark Twain pointed out, “Substitute damn every time you’re inclined to write very. Your editor will delete it, and the writing will be just as it should be.”

Ray Bradbury summed it all up this way. He said, “Zest. Gusto. How rarely one hears these words used. How rarely do we see people living, or for that matter, creating by them. Yet, if I were asked to name the most important items in a writer’s make-up, the things that shape his material and rush him along the road to where he wants to go, I could only warn him to look for his zest, see his gusto.”

I leave you now.

My zest is lost on Facebook.

And my gusto is on Twitter.

Hopefully, I can find them both before I write again.

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  • Caleb Pirtle

    And if the story’s told right, it probably won’t take 300 pages to tell.

  • Leslie Moon

    Do you think the ebook phenomenon has created a fast food approach to reading?
    I personally am finding most (current) best sellers are written at about a 9th grade (or lower) reading level. I always read to learn – either vocabulary, history, something. I agree with concise but I am saddened at the thought that pretty soon we are going to be writing books filled with LOL and BTW.
    Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Leslie, I do think that readers of eBooks prefer shorter and more concise novels. The prices for books are inexpensive, and, because of television, readers have shorter attention spans. Readers I have talked with would rather read three 200-page books than one 600-page book. However, it takes a lot more skill for an author to write with literary quality, but it can be done. And authors, through the years, have created some real literary gems with short novels. A long epic these days simply becomes a three-book series.

  • Darlene Jones

    Say what you need to say and get on with it.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Short and sweet.

  • Don Newbury

    Caleb, reminds me of an old story Joe Rushing loved to tell. Said he’d canceled all magazine subscriptions. Too many he never opened. He did, however, keep subscriptions to Playboy and National Geographic, so he could pictorially envision places he never expected to visit….

    • Caleb Pirtle

      I’m with Joe.

      • Don Newbury

        Meant to mention: Roger Summers, of course, has far more readers and far more friends who value him greatly than he could possibly know. But, I am heartened: Following your publication of my, uh, “hair piece,” he offered a one-word but twice-repeated response: “Hair, Hair.” In the past, he’s always written a sentence or two about my stuff. Maybe he’s almost back!

        • Caleb Pirtle

          Roger assures me that he will begin writing again in January. Like you, I miss his words.

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