Saturday, January 29, 2011


I've been fortunate enough to have read some great books lately. One I'm doling out to myself a little at a time is Richard Price's Lush Life. I came across a particularly good technique he uses that demonstrates one of a writer's most important goals:

If it does not absolutely need to be in the book, cut it out.

This is one of the ten commandments of screenwriting, of course, a discipline that finds Hemingway distressingly wordy. Novels are a bit off the pace, but getting leaner every day. Why? Because the reader today is also a viewer of movies and television. They're used to a faster pace, visual content, and shorter scenes.

Lush Life is a great example. Just the best voice in the world. Fantastic authenticity. And it flies. Here's the scene I'm thinking of: a detective is bringing a note from the mother of a murdered young man to the young man's father. He does not unfold the note to look at it. He gets to the father's hotel room and finds him gone. The next line tells us what the note says.

Bam. It might not seem like much, but Price has not told us that the detective opened the note and read it. A lazy writer would have. He closed the connection between two facts without two beats of unnecessary action, and the result is electric. He characterizes the detective, trusts the reader, and moves the story.

That's how good you've got to be.

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