Thursday, April 17, 2014

Cutting to the Chase

In the last few days, for various reasons, I've been reading a fair amount of unpublished fiction by aspiring writers. I'm happy when either of two things jumps out at me: When an author cuts to the chase, and when they express something with unique style.

What do I mean, cut to the chase?

Simply, get to the point.

There's not just one finish line in a novel, there are a thousand of them. Whenever a character talks, whenever the momentum shifts, whenever the world changes—a rainstorm comes up, an engine coughs and catches, someone feels a surge of love or hate—there's a chase. Cut to it without anything extraneous. The best writers cut to their chases free from fear and eager to let it flow.

Another happy time is when I'm reading a Pulitzer-winning book or the humblest pages from a hopeful writer, and I come across unique expression. Probably happier than when I realize a great plot is unfurling. Both together? I fall on the floor.

Savvy readers instantly recognize terrific style: The words don't just swing, they surprise. You've never thought of dawn light as 'sifting over the land', but when a character does, you go 'Ah.' And you're richer for it. You'd never think to describe somebody's eyes as 'seeds', but when you read it, you experience a tiny burst of pleasure. You've just been helped to see.

The way to write like that is to unleash yourself. Forget any rule about words you ever knew. Go deep, then go deeper on your thousand chases. Your finished words must flow swiftly and smoothly, but you must never hurry.

How do you cut to the chase? How do you excavate your inner stylist? To post your ideas / comments, all of which I read and try to respond to, click below where it says, 'No Comments,' or '2 Comments,' or whatever.

[photo of Robert Garrison's incredible bas-relief embodying swiftness and smoothness at Rockefeller Center by ES] 

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  1. I love when I come across those moments when I'm reading…and writing. :) For me, flash fiction forces me to "cut to the chase" as quickly as possible, using the strongest, most powerful words possible.

    1. That's an excellent point, Madeline. I hadn't thought of flash fiction that way before.


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