When Brevity in Storytelling Is Bad

when brevity is bad

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When I advise writers on their manuscripts—especially when I’m looking at their first pages—the most consistent feedback I have is: Cut. I constantly question: Do we need this detail? Does this information have to come right now? Can we wait on this back story? Why is this description relevant?

Also, it can sometimes be easier to cut something if you can’t see how to fix it. Just remove the offending bits, job done. But too many cuts can deaden a piece. You know how doctors used to think that bleeding you out would resolve your health problems? Sometimes cutting a piece of writing is just like that. You’re not helping, you’re weakening.

In the latest Glimmer Train bulletin, fiction writer Josh Weil discusses when brevity is not your best friend in telling a story:

We’ve all been there: a moment when something of such import happens that the space life allows for it seems too small. For me, the time my grandfather broke free of his dementia to speak last words to me was like that. The time I came home to an empty apartment and knew my marriage was over was like that….Unfortunately, life doesn’t let time expand to hold these things the way they warrant. Luckily, writing does. I call it breathing room. And I think it’s one of the most underappreciated (even at times derided) ideas a creative writer can employ.

Read the full essay.

Also in the latest Glimmer Train bulletin:


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Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. She also has a book forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, The Business of Being a Writer (2017).

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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5 Comments on "When Brevity in Storytelling Is Bad"

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[…] It's sometimes easier to cut a piece of writing if you can't see how to fix it. Just remove the offending bits, job done. But it can deaden a piece.  […]

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[…] When Brevity in Storytelling Is Bad (Jane Friedman) When I advise writers on their manuscripts—especially when I’m looking at their first pages—the most consistent feedback I have is: Cut. I constantly question: Do we need this detail? Does this information have to come right now? Can we wait on this back story? Why is this description relevant? […]

Jon Guenther

Guilty as charged. Thanks, Jane!

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[…] Maggie Doonan has 5 reasons novelists should write short stories, while Josh Weil explores when brevity in storytelling is bad. […]

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