Eliminating Rocks

Don’t you just hate it when someone begins with “to make a long story short” and then doesn’t?

I just found this quote in my stash.
          A man who uses a great many words to express his meaning is like a bad marksman who, instead of aiming a single stone at an object, takes up a handful and throws at it in hopes he may hit. -Samuel Johnson, lexicographer (1709-1784)

This week my Southern Miss friends have been understandably proud and basked in the reflected glory as Ray Guy became the first true punter to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Among his USM accomplishments is a 61-yard field goal in a snowstorm. To my chagrin, he also kicked a 91-yard field goal against Ole Miss. “What has all of this got to do with wordiness?” you ask. I’ll tell you.

My friend Mike, devoted enough to watch the entire Hall of Fame presentation show and listen to all the speeches, said, “Ray Guy stuck to the script. Those other guys seemed to wander all over the place.” His carefully planned speech took aim as accurately as his kicking foot.

This whole concept has been center front in my mind this week as I have cut words from a story under construction. Every writer has her (or his) own system. Mine includes writing the whole thing – call it picking up a whole bucketful instead of a handful of stones – and then throwing out the ones that don’t fit.

An early version of this story came in at 1407 words and got a positive review along with a few suggestions from my Louisiana/Mississippi SCBWI critique group. A second improved version got better comments at 1039 words. The current version, with probably another 25 words yet to toss, boasts only 876 words. It’s crazy how throwing out those extra rocks has lightened the load and made for a better story. Cutting surprises me with its improvements almost every time.

Now if I could just get people, including myself, to keep the promise of, “To make a long story short.”

[I had written this before I watched the New York Giants win the Hall of Fame game last night. Ray Guy, sporting his Southern Miss black and gold tie to go with his new gold jacket had a sideline interview with a reporter. He actually said, “To make a long story . . . “]