Each purposeful word moving the plot forward.
Wait. Stop right there. I know what comes next. “Less is more,” right?
Okay, I must confess. Sometimes I have a hard time grasping the whole, “Less is more,” concept. Take cookies, for example. Are you seriously trying to tell me that this plate . . .
. . . Has more cookies than this plate . . .
No way. The first plate clearly has less cookies, the second plate has more, and if someone asks me, “Hey, Laura, what plate of cookies would you like?” then duh, I’m going with this one . . .
Can I get an amen, Cookie Monster?
Yeah, Cookie Monster knows what I’m talking about.
But then again . . . maybe my inability to grasp the “Less is more” concept is the reason why my friends frequently say the following things after they critique my beginning manuscripts:
It’s too complicated.
There’s too many characters.
And way too many plot threads.
You need to simplify, simplify, simplify.
See, it’s hard for me to just write a “Girl Meets Boy” story.
No, in my manuscripts, Girl meets Boy after a softball game where a vicious catcher named Birdie Baker sabotaged her pitching by giving the wrong calls and Girl’s recently divorced parents fought on the sidelines because Dad was uptight over his new boss ignoring his proposal because he’s more interested in getting his spoiled daughter on Toddlers and Tiaras, and Mom was depressed over her upcoming twenty-year high school reunion because that nasty Priscilla Combs will surely say something about Mom’s lopsided forehead caused by a Botox malfunction, so as a result, Girl says something rude to Boy but Boy doesn’t notice because he’s dealing with failing grades, his best friend’s girl troubles, a horrible case of athlete’s foot, and a college rejection he hasn’t told his parents about because they’re busy with Grandma Lulu who doesn’t want to go to a nursing home because the mattresses smell like Play Dough and the director refuses to allow bingo because of his past gambling addiction.
But wait! There’s more!
How could we forget Girl’s Aunt Rebecca who’s certain that her neighbor, the crotchety Thelma Wolf is stealing her Sunday paper but it’s her other neighbor, Barney Ray who everyone things is a successful accountant but he’s actually a closeted couponing hoarder with over three hundred boxes of cereal and Boy’s overachieving sister, Cynthia who helps an elderly marine at the nursing home pick up Grandma Lulu by dousing him with Axe Body Spray to cover up the Play Dough smell?
Too complicated, too many characters, too many plot threads, need to simplify, simplify, simplify.
So fine, maybe it might be a good idea for me to take a few cookies off my plate and learn about “Less is more.”
(James is going to be one of our presenters at our July conference which I’m so excited about because he’s AWESOME!)
Anyway, let’s read his first chapter, posted with his permission:
The casket is closed. It was a plane crash, after all.
The pew overfloweth. As do the sentiments of the never-ending line of avid admirers, casual acquaintances, business associates, relatives, and what have you that take their turn at the podium on the church stage.
One person leaves, another takes his or her place. It’s been going on for hours.
A chubby lady wobbles to the microphone.
“He was as fabulous as a man could be. He was rich, but he was charitable. He was strong, he was sensitive. I was lucky to know him. We were all lucky to know him.”
She wobbles off.
A tall man in a black suit with a big red bow tie sprints up to the pulpit:
“He was a god. A god, I tell you.”
He sprints back to his seat.
An entire family, one of them holding a crying baby, gets up there and sings, “The Wind Beneath My Wings.”
Now the whole place is bawling.
There is a long silence.
Suddenly, all eyes turn to me. I seem to be the last person who might have something to say.
I slowly walk up to the front of the church. I stand at the podium. I clear my throat.
“He was an ass. My father was a complete and total ass.”
*Sigh.* Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. And according to my word count, only 221 words.
Let’s take a closer look at those 221 words. What didn’t we learn?
Well, we didn’t learn about the plane crash. What happened, engine failure? Brake malfunction? How many people died? And the father is apparently famous. Why is he famous? How did the lady know him? Why does bow tie man think he’s a god? And what about the baby-holding family. Were they good singers? And mostly—why does Hercules think his father is an ass?
We don’t get the answers to any of these questions.
But then again . . . do we need them?
No, it’s a given that the airplane crash was pretty bad. And the reasons for his father’s fame isn’t important right now—the way Hercules responds at the church is. Anything else would be a distraction, so James keeps things concise. To the point.
Writing “simple” isn’t easy, though, is it? It’s like some idiot saying, “Huh, picture books are really short so they must be a breeze to write. I’ll be the next Dr. Seuss!”
(Okay, that idiot was me about ten years ago. I’ve since learned better, I can assure you of that.)
No, writing “simple” is incredibly hard, especially for folks like me who feel it’s necessary to throw in every single color of the spectrum. Which brings us to today’s challenge.
Okay, remember how I told you one of the exercises will make you curse us out loud?
Well, guess what. This is that exercise. And I’m not going to lie. I’m really dreading this, which is an indicator that I really need to do it.
To practice the art of writing simple and concise, I want you to write a full, complete story—with a title, beginning, middle, and end—using ONLY 200 words.
But wait! There’s more!
For a limited time only, I’ll up the word count to 221, the same exact word count James used in his first chapter. And because I fully intend on rewarding myself afterwards with a yummy, chocolaty treat, everyone who participates in this challenge will get a yummy, chocolaty treat at the conference, as well!
And for our illustrator friends, here’s Chieu’s:
Since we are thinking simplicity, let’s go back to basic foundations and do some good old fashion contour drawings–using elements of line to create three-dimensional outlines of subjects. This will be a fun and relaxing exercise. Enjoy!
Okay, everyone, good luck! Be brave! Be bold! Be SIMPLE!