It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly a shot rang out. Okay, way over used and boring, but I bet everyone who read those lines instantly created a story in their minds. Of course, it would be dark and stormy. Someone needed cover. It was a natural storm and an unnatural storm. The madman in the dark, raging, storming within. The hand raised. The shot. Who? They are a few over worked lines that send the imagination flying.
There is a story about Hemingway that he bragged he could tell a story in only a few words. Someone challenged him to prove it and after some reflection he wrote this six word tragedy. For Sale. Baby shoes. Never worn. What could be more gut wrenching? If the story is true, it’s probably the best thing Hemingway ever wrote.
The message here is to be a good writer you need two skills. The ability to paint pictures on people’s minds and the ability to grab a reader’s emotions and squeeze without misery. Words are so powerful, that they can inspire nations, blind the decent to atrocities and give peace to the troubled soul. Sadly, too many words can weaken the impact of a few well-chosen ones. Yes, War and Peace is a master piece, but if the words had not been chosen well, it would have been in twelve volumes not one mighty tome.
My advice to authors, whether just beginning or seasoned writers, is to practice using as few words as possible. At first, it’s hard but with practice you’ll find that your phrases become far more powerful. A really good writer can leave a word image lingering on a reader’s mind forever.
There is a story of a critic, who having waded through a rather long trilogy of books, sighed deeply and muttered, “Clearly the author had no point to get to.” It is fashionable at the moment to feel the need to write what I refer to as hernia novels. If I grunt picking up the book, I do wonder if the editor shouldn’t have been taken out and shot. Good editors, no matter how painful it is to the writer, should follow a slash and burn policy whenever possible.
Most of the books on the top ten most published (Over 100 million sold) are religious. Fiction writers who make the list are Agatha Christie, JRR Tolkien, and JK Rowlings. Why? On one level that’s an easy question to answer. They each started a trend. Christie popularized the drawing room murder mystery, Tolkien made fantasy writing a cult, and Rowlings put the magic in fantasy. But close your eyes and think about these books and as soon as you do you’ll realize the author has grabbed your emotions by the throat or painted an image that you will never forget.
“A mother’s love for her child is like nothing else in the world. It knows no law, no pity. It dares all things and crushes down remorselessly all that stands in its path.” Christie, The Hound of Death
“The Road goes ever on and on/Down from the door where it began./Now far ahead the Road has gone,/And I must follow, if I can.” Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring.
“It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.” Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
What makes good writing is the strength of the words not the length of the book.