Get to the friggin’ point

Get to the point. How many times have I said this to my kids when I have been involved in agonizing conversations along the lines of: “and then, you know, he said, whatever, and I said yeah, I know, right?”

I’ve also said this about books. Especially when the author has spent too much time describing the setting – okay I get it, the action is taking place in a bucolic meadow, I get it, now can we please get to the action? Or when a conversation continues (and continues) without adding any information *specific* to the plot (much like my kids’ conversations do.)

Stop wasting my time. Stop wasting everyone’s time.

Get to the friggin’ point already.

There is a diet book series out there called Eat This, Not That. It is hugely popular because it cuts to the chase. The author provides a picture of what you should eat and then one of a comparable food you shouldn’t. Bam – clarity at its best – it’s what you need to know and only what you need to know.

The author got to the point.

It’s difficult to cut your writing, after all, every word was born of sweat and blood – writers tend to be rather attached to what they write. But if you want to have impactful writing, you must learn to trim until all that is left is the bone that moves your reader forward.

Consider these two examples:

It was ridiculously cold when I woke up this morning.

IMG_20150107_110832706
And –

It was ridiculously cold when I woke up this morning.

IMG_20150107_072150210
The first example has too much information in it. You’re supposed to be concerned about the cold, but why is the door open and what is that thing over there, a bike?! The focus is spread over too many areas and you haven’t made your point.

Now consider the second example. It was ridiculously cold – see? Here’s the supporting evidence. I dare say that the second example would be a better start to a story. There’s nothing extraneous, every detail belongs, you know exactly what the story will be about. Bam.

Think of these photos as you attempt to pare down your writing. Focus on what’s important and what supports the plot. Try to remove all that is unnecessary and for goodness sake, force your writing to get to the point.

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

62 thoughts on “Get to the friggin’ point

  1. My English teacher told me I used to waffle a lot, now you’ve just confirmed her observation, and also brought back a funny memory of when the whole class jumped out the window to end the class early. Don’t worry it was the ground floor. Thanks for the advice.

    • People typically only spend a few seconds on a web page before they decide to read or not. With a book you’re allowed a bit more time, but not much. I’ve read so many books where the first page goes nowhere and it’s very difficult to continue reading.

      Wendy

      • I’m a bit more forgiving than just the first page. more so if it is someone I have read before. I feel that certain books have a time and place to be read. For example when I was a student I picked up a copy of 1984 by George Orwell and part way through I thought this is rubbish I know! recently I picked the book up again and my view of it is completely different.

    • That’ a rule (although one I’ve never heard) in this case I was trying to make an example using pictures (you could print them both out and keep them by your computer to remind you to focus your writing.)

      You should have seen how these photos got ripped (lovingly but yes) apart in a discussion on this post. For me it made sense, maybe not for everyone.

      Wendy

  2. I’m laughing so hard right now because my sister and I were talking about this last night (I started a blog of my own, and I want to write about the elements of a compelling first chapter). Great post and use of imagery to drive the point home.

  3. Absolutely. My favorite literary quote was penned by Georgia O’Keefe: “It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get at the real meaning of things.”

  4. I was receiving the same advice in a writing program I had enrolled in. The narration was too complicated, but my conversations where spot on.
    It helps when you have someone else to edit and ask “was all that really necessary?”

    • I have always said that I am a writer, I’m not an editor. All of my editors are, with their distance, able to see mistakes that I can not. I absolutely rely on my editors and a good one is worth gold.

      Wendy

      • I think most writers see the same things about themselves, which is a good thing. Editors are editors because they see the details and inconsistencies, writers are the idea people., We need each other ^_^

  5. Many authors put too much irrelevant and vague material in because it’s easier than having to move the story along with new material which takes a lot more thinking. It’s much easier to discuss in excruciating, mind numbing detail how a single bird sings than to bring in the other animals.

    • Larry,

      Although that’s true, I also think that a lot of writers try to “hide” behind their words. There is a mistaken belief (by some) that more words will lessen the blow. My point is to let the blow happen, quickly and with force – and then deal with the aftermath.

      Wendy

    • Initially, my response was “good for you” BUT if you want to market your book, there can be page length considerations (but on the whole, books tend to be a bit shorter than they used to – no one has time to read a 500 page story anymore.)

      Write what you need to tell the story in its completion and no more.

      Wendy

  6. Thanks for the post. There have been many times recently when after I’ve written something, I leave it. As I’m turning the ideas of the story over in my mind I realize what needs to go and what can stay. I then go back and, hopefully with some success, edit out what doesn’t work to move the story along.

    • Every writer needs to have some distance from their work in order to go back for a rewrite. There have been many times when I look at my work and I say to myself “what on earth was I thinking?” Time and distance are the friends of writers.

      Wendy

  7. Interesting timing. I just read, correction…tried to read, a blog post by someone I like. He can sometimes ramble and it is amusing and I’ll gladly follow along. It depends on the subject. Today it was a non-fiction piece of op/ed and lordy, lordy, the man was all over the place. I gave up. I know he can be concise and I’d love to comment to him (not here) that there’s a time and a place to meander. This time he needed to get to the fricking point in 300 words! 😀

    In general though, you’re walking a fine line between too much and not enough.

    • Rambling, especially in blog posts is something that is more often seen than not. Many of us write our posts either the day it is due or we have a set amount of time to write it. This leads to some dithering posts.

      Practice helps, but sometimes due to time constraints and life, we just don’t have the time we need to write.

      Although this is permissible (to a degree in blog posts) there is never an excuse to see this in a published and edited piece of work.

      Wendy

    • You have to self-edit, but it also doesn’t hurt to have someone else take a look at your work. It can be amazing the things that are invisible to you that another person sees.

      Wendy

  8. I love the imagery you used for this. But my question is this: If we are to write the “bare bones”, or channel our inner Hemingway, then why do we still have publishers/editors insisting on novels that stretch well over the 100,000 word mark? Some of the best books I have read (in the genre I prefer) are about 200 pages – nothing huge, but a beautifully condensed story. When I see a novel that starts pushing 500 plus pages I cringe at the thought of so much tedious detail.

    • Times are changing and for the most part, I’m seeing shorter books coming out. It all depends on your publisher, the genre, and the demand. I’m not saying you have to pad your story, but if more words are requested, then you simply need more detail, take a scene and ask yourself, what led to him doing this? Take it back a step and add additional information that enhances the plot.

      Wendy

  9. Everything is relative when it comes to picture and word pairing. It’s like striking an offbeat note in a symphony, it can give that touch of humor, serenity depending on even a single sentence.

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