Friday, April 26, 2013

The Power of Brevity - "Hot In Here"

Less is more

The concept of brevity goes beyond not repeating things, or avoiding the sin of over explaining something, or going on and on, hoping your reader will finally understand what the heck you're talking about. Brevity asks you to focus on word choice and the imagery those choices create.

A simple example to set the stage -- in "A Wanted Man" by Lee Child, Jack Reacher is given a bottle of water. Child then explains:

"...He split the seal on the bottle..."

Child could have said, "...He opened the bottle..." (yawn!) but by choosing the verb "split" and the noun "seal," he produces an image that's impossible to miss. In fact, he accomplished a few things. He shows the action and puts the reader tight into the narrator's POV by allowing the reader to actually hear the action.

My freelance editor, JJ, put me to task. Over the last few months I've been knee-deep in revisions and have taken this simple lesson to heart. The right verbs go beyond showing, they let the reader hear and experience it by pulling them in closer to the story.

It was with this in mind that the opening lyrics of a Rascal Flatts song caught my attention.

"Hot In Here" by Rascal Flatts
She jumped in my truck in her bare feet
Slid on over to the middle seat
Baby crack a window,
Crank that AC high as it can go

Let's dig in...

She jumped in my truck in her bare feet

The opening sentence should make the reader/listener ask questions and extrapolate answers. Who is she? Why is she in her bare feet? She can't be a high society woman. Poor? Or is she a young woman? He drives a truck. Small town in rural America? Maybe Let's hear more.

Slid on over to the middle seat

Beautiful use of an audible verb. Slid creates the picture we need. She must be younger -- youthful attitude to be in bare feet and slide on over. As close as she can be to him.

Baby crack a window,

She calls him "baby." Not just acquaintances. Young love? Can you hear the crack of the window? Are you in the driver's seat yet? I remember my first car and how the day's temperature expanded the windows such that the first time I rolled her down, a cracking sound would echo in my poorly insulated car.

Crank that AC high as it can go

Crank. Old truck, no touch-screens on this puppy. It must be hot outside. And it seems that when these two are together, things get hot inside. Now the image of a barefooted young woman is taking on a new meaning.

What the songwriter(s) have done is set up the world and situation. The judicious use of powerful verbs create images, produce sounds, and deliver the audience an experiential story. We can see ourselves there, we've probably lived a version of this story in one form or another.

Brevity is power. As writers, we must question if our readers can experience the sentence we've written.

Are there passages or song lyrics that with the brief use of words have created a complete scene for you? Scenes where you didn't need to be there, but you could see it all unfold in front of you?

Fight the good fight!
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