I'm thrilled to read Isaac Asimov for the first time (yes, I know, you're allowed to spank me), and this nagging thought that's been badgering me lately surfaced again. The economy of words. The ability to say a lot with next to nothing. The poetry of imagining that which the writer omitted, omitted for the reader to fill in. Wouldn't we all like to do that? Don't we all get chills when we read something so profound, so crisp, something said so succinctly with just a few words? I know I want to learn how to do this (especially because I tend to blab a lot), and I know you want to learn this too. Here then. Let me muse on the subject, share with you what I've learned.
The economy in words comes from a lot of rewriting.
This means, you can relax about your first draft. It will be confusing and wordy and busy and likely make you want to tear out your hair or give up altogether. DON'T. First drafts are required to be the messes they are, regardless of whether you carefully plot them or not. You're wading in the dark, in the fog, feeling for the story. Let it be nonsensical and convoluted. Let it take you to unexpected places. Feel rather than write. Write down what you feel. Don't worry about structure of grammar or any of those perfect things you see in final published books. They all looked like your mess when they were being spawn out of nothing. Jot down things that make no sense to you, evoke emotion. Torn sentences. Single words. Unconnected images. Like this.
And they flew away. But the wings...he couldn't take his eyes away from the blue. Why blue? Blue eyes? Blue color. That beetle. The beetle that crawled up his leg. He was five. Was he? It tickled him. The many little legs. And this now. The air that was rushing by. Could it be? Perhaps it never existed. Gold. Gold and blue. Yes. It was here. It was real. He touched it, and it came alive.
Okay, I just totally pulled the above out of my ass in 2 minutes or something. Just to illustrate to you that these fragments make very little sense but play on feelings. They simply describe sensations. Colors. The feeling of touch, of air. I mean, I don't even know what the hell I mean here, but it gave me a thrill writing this little passage. It made me wonder. What is this gold and blue thing? What is coming alive? I want to write more, to find out. I want to write like a reader, without knowing what happens next. That's the excitement of it. I will figure it out when rewriting later. But the thing to notice here, something I did deliberately is, not much is being said. For example, when I say "blue eyes", that's all I have to say. You might think of so many different things. Is it a girl he liked? Did she have blue eyes? Or his mother? Or some kind of a creature? It's beautiful, though, to imagine these things, isn't it? It gives you a sense of wonder.
This is why we read books. To experience wonder.
Create this wonder by saying very little. Touch upon details with a light brush. Supply only one detail about everything that happens. For example, the line that struck me yesterday in I, ROBOT by Isaac Asimov is this:
"And George Weston's vest buttons strained."
That's all he had to say. He didn't describe how he puffed out his chest. He said no word about George Weston feeling proud (this is, by the way, a good place to remind you not to use "thought" verbs) or righteous or overbearing. Nada. Nothing of the sort. And yet it's all you have to know, all you have to see in your mind to fill in the rest. That is what economical writing is. That is what we love to read. We love to feel the story, to be part of the story. And how do we do it? By supplying the rest of it in our heads. That's where the magic is.
How to achieve it?
Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Write a lot and rewrite a lot. Dump all your thoughts into your first draft and don't be afraid for it to be erratic and sloppy and daft. But once you're done with it, once you start rewriting, give yourself ample time. Work on every sentence. Cut, cut, and cut. See how you can say more things with less words. Turn entire paragraphs into single sentences. Chop away anything that you don't need, anything in excess. A good rule of thumb is, use only one detail, ONE DETAIL, to describe anything of significance. For example, a new character appears. Describe only one thing about that character.
She had red flaming hair. He stopped like an old man. They laughed in donkey brays. His eyes were too large for his face. That hat she wore, it swallowed her whole. The indignation on his face made him appear rigid. Her hands were veined and old and lovely.
Same goes for everything else. Descriptions of places, actions, plot twists.
The house towered over them as if it was getting ready to smash them. They sped to the end of their lives, and they didn't know it. The only thing she remembered about yesterday was that noise, that terrible screeching noise. His face was pure spite. It wasn't the sea, it was endless blue. (Here we go, I must be stuck on blue color today.)
Read. Read a lot and notice these things. The things that strike you with their minimalism and the sense of something profound, something that touches you deep. What you will notice is that most of these things arise from a pairing two to three words that seem to not belong together. They strike us with their impossible imagery, and it stays with us. I have picked out a smattering of choice phrases to describe robots from I, ROBOT by Isaac Asimov. Here they are for your amusement.
"Walking junk yard", "lunatic robot", "metal mess", "chromium cranium", "son of a hunk of iron ore", "brainless lump", "animated gadget", "brass baboon", "electrified scarecrow", "clockwork contraption."
Aren't they lovely? I think they are. No other explanations needed.
Also, if you haven't yet, read Several Short Sentences About Writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg. It will profoundly change the way you think about your writing. I know it changed me. And now, back to writing. You have 18 more days, if you're doing NaNoWriMo. I know you can do it. Keep at it. Dump your feelings on paper without thinking. You can fix it all later, when you're done.