War and Peace, when it was a 1,225-page blockbuster rather than a toothsome TV adaptation, was a by-word for long and weighty.
At medical school, one lecturer seemed bent on following in Tolstoy’s footsteps. Using ten words when one would do, he habitually overran, but did he cram more in? Was his specialism more vital than others? No.
Sadly, many speakers drone on at length, oblivious of their audience and of those scheduled after them, their numerous PowerPoint slides an accessory to their crime of disrespect.
Most topics, even Brexit, could be covered more succinctly. Going too long is blatant laziness. “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead,” said Mark Twain. Others, including Cicero, TS Eliot, and Blaise Pascal have expressed the same sentiment.
As the cliché goes, it would be easy for journalists from The Sun newspaper to write for The Times, but not vice versa. Guido Fawkes, who has done both, agrees.
Keeping it short leaves little scope for nuance. On the plus side, readers won’t give up in droves, as if their team is losing 6-0.
KISS. Less is [word count exceeded]
You may like to read: 10 Tabloid Tips to Better Writing, from Writer’s Digest and my writing colleague Dan Holloway on Why Less is More When Reading or Performing Your Work in Public.
Now that Dan’s out, he’s on the up. First off, he needs to find work. The snag? How to explain away six years at Her Majesty’s pleasure. Inventing a job abroad might fill that big gap on his CV. Lucky he’s got a good imagination. You don’t get very far without one, in his experience.
Dan is one of the characters from my novel One Night at the Jacaranda. In this post I’m letting him out to share his current MO with you.
Dan needs to learn stuff. That’s step two. He reads a quality paper every day now. Cover to cover. At the public library, if it hasn’t already been nicked. Or he might find one in a bin. Some days he has to pay for one.
And he listens. You can learn a lot from people, especially when they don’t even realise what they’re saying. That’s when you discover things.
He chooses his own words carefully. From a dictionary he got at the charity shop. That’s step three: not sounding like a lag anymore. Course, when you’re inside you want to sound like everyone else, because bad things are even more likely to happen when you don’t fit in.
A lot of his new words are adjectives. Easier to slip into conversation than nouns. How the fuck would you shoe-horn a word like behemoth into a chat with the bint on the till at Iceland? Yesterday he just about managed to use contiguous.
That was when the old biddy behind him pushed her shopping right up next to his on the belt. He’d have let her go first, especially seeing as she only had a pint of milk and a packet of Rich Teas, but then he wouldn’t have been able to say contiguous. So he just put a divider up on the belt.
Today’s word of the day is egregious. Means outstandingly bad, but so far he’s only managed to use it once, even though he waited an age for the 16 bus and when he got on it ponged of rotten fish. Which is about as egregious as it can get.
Fourth and most important of all: he’s looking for a woman. Nobody said these four steps would be easy, but he’s got a good feeling in his bones.
Yep, there too.