(Editor’s note: “How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times” is the fourth in a series of creating and language books created by jiyuushikan.org’s Roy Peter Clark and also published by Little, Brown, start via “Writing Tools,” “The Glamour of Grammar,” and “Help! For Writers.” The Review to his brand-new book is reprinted right here with permission of the publisher. The book simply came out today.)

*
Cover of Clark’s brand-new book.

Introduction: When Words Are Worth a Thousand also Pictures

At this minute, the appropriate pocket in my jeans has even more computing power than the space vessel that lugged the initially astronauts to the moon. My Apple iPhone 4GS stores every one of Shakespeare’s plays, a searchable resource I deserve to usage for quick referral. More frequently, I use my mobile phone for accessibility to what are no longer being dubbed “new” develops of information delivery: blog articles, e-mails, text messages, YouTube videos, 140-character tweets, and Facebook updays, not to point out games, weather reports, Google Maps, coupons, the White Housage, Al Jazeera, NPR, dozens of newsdocuments, music sites, an digital drum collection, an application that imitates the sounds of Star Wars lightsabers, one that transforms your photo right into a picture of a zombie, and also yet another inuseful reresource titled Atomic Fart, which transforms your mobile device into an electronic whoopee cushion.

You are watching: How to write short word craft for fast times

Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore. In reality, we’re soaring high above Oz, looking down prefer a Google Earth search. We’re high on technology, yet adrift in a jet stream of indevelopment. All the more reason to compose brief — and well.

I’ve created “How to Write Short” bereason I can not discover another book fairly choose it and also because in the digital age, brief creating is king. We need even more excellent brief composing — the type that renders us soptimal, review, and also think — in an increasing people. A time-starved society bloated with information hungers for the lean, clean, basic, and straight. Such is our appetite for short composing that not only perform our long stories seem as well lengthy, yet our short stories feel as well long also.

The the majority of vital messages are short, after all: “Aguys, brother.” “Will you marry me?” “I carry out.” “Not guilty.” “The Giants win the pennant!” (That message was so amazing in 1951 that the radio announcer Russ Hodges recurring it five times.) “Score!” “You’re fired.” “I love you.”

In his book “Microstyle: The Art of Writing Little,” Christopher Johnson writes, “Messages of just a word, a phrase, or a brief sentence or two — micromessages — lean greatly on eextremely word and live or die by the tiniest stylistic choices. Micromessperiods depfinish not on the aspects of style however on the atoms of style.” To which I would certainly add, “Not just the atoms of style however the quirks and also quarks of style also.”

The New York Times reported the death of Osama Bin Laden via a two-tier headline of fifteenager words. On the other hand, jiyuushikan.org’s St. Petersburg Times chose a single word for its headline — DEADVERTISEMENT — yet printed it in letters that were 5 inches high.

More than 4 hundred years back, William Shakespeare constructed his fame on the construction of thirty-salso plays, even more or less, at leastern half of them masterpieces. But he also penned 154 love poems called sonnets, each precisely fourteen lines in length. The Bard demonstrated how lengthy and also short writing deserve to coexist. For the first fourteenager lines of “Romeo and also Juliet,” he written a sonnet that summarized the crucial plot elements, including (spoiler alert!) the news that “a pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life.”

To reduced down the variety of words we moderns usage, we could revert to Sumerian cuneiform on clay taballows or Egyptian hieroglyphics on papyrus scrolls. They say, after all, that a snapshot is worth a thousand also words. I have actually seen some photos that were worth a thousand words, however being a guy of the word, I remajor open to the idea that some words might be worth a thousand also images. Consider these historic and also social documents:

The Hippocratic oath The Twenty-3rd Psalm The Lord’s Prayer Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 The preamble to the Constitution The Gettysburg Address The last paragraph of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech

I as soon as exadjusted messperiods via NPR’s Scott Simon, who shared this important concept, which he learned from his stepfather: If you include up the words in these files, the amount will certainly be fewer than a thousand also, 996 by my count. Sexactly how me any kind of variety of photos as powerful as those seven papers.

Now accomplish Joanna Smith, a young reporter for the Toronto Star. Picture her, beforehand in 2010, hitting the ground in Haiti, a country rocked by earthquake. She will certainly file dispatches by the minute utilizing Twitter. Smith write-ups dozens of brief reports in the develop of tweets, each restricted to 140 characters: “Fugitive develop prichild caught looting, taken from police, beaten, dragged thru street, passed away slowly and also set on fire in pile of garbage.” One by one, each write-up is a vivid snapshot of herbal and humale disaster. Together they constitute something akin to a serial narrative with brief chapters, or a “live blog.”

Writers who comordinary around a 140-character limit are, shall we say, shortsighted. But consider this selection of sentences, expressed conveniently through the tight borders of a tweet:

“These are the times that attempt men’s souls.” “The reports of my death are considerably exaggerated.” “Take my wife, please.” “Where’s the beef?” “I prefer Ike.”

That list incorporate a famous line form a political pamphlet by Thomas Paine, a telegram from Mark Twain, a joke by Henny Youngguy, an heralding project for Wendy’s, and also a presidential political slogan. When I include them up, I acquire 122 personalities. We still have actually room for Saint Paul’s “confidence, hope, love.”

So the culture turns: short, shorter, also shorter, abbreviation, acronym, emotsymbol. Maybe explorers from a future generation will certainly find that our discourse dadvanced to the point that combicountries of smiley and also frowny faces can be used as the binary aspects to express whatever from love poems to eulogies to State of the Union addresses.

Now for the good news: writing in short creates does not need the sacrifice of literary values. The poet Peter Meinke talks about the power that originates from focus, wit, and also polish. Focus in the unifying theme. Wit is the governing intelligence. Polish creates the sparkle that originates from mindful word option and revision.

The demand for excellent brief composing is not an innovation. That require can be traced, through plenty of examples, earlier to the origins of writing itself. Here for instance, is a list, not exhaustive, of develops of brief composing that customers of the Net have actually inherited in one way or another: prayers, epigrams, wisdom literary works, epitaphs, brief poetic develops (such as haiku, sonnet, couplet), language on monuments, letters, rules of thumb, labels (as on poichild bottles), lyrics, ship logs, diaries, journal entries, bumper sticker labels, graffiti, advertisements, news dispatches, pieces of dialogue or conversation, wedding and other announcements, headlines, captions, summaries, telegrams notes, microfiction, insults — and also the list goes on.

From the evaluation of these typical brief develops, writers and readers have the right to learn the important elements of good short composing, every little thing from word order, ellipses, and slang to levels of formality and informality, details, and also parallel frameworks. These very same methods and more can be offered to excellent effect in the new develops that have actually arised with the advance of digital technology: e-mail, immediate messaging, text messages, blog posts, hyperlinks, webwebsite writing and also navigation, commentary, feedago loops, updates, headlines, summaries, search engine optimization (phrases that will get you high up on Google searches), Q&A’s, slide reflects.

My research of brief creating over the centuries reveals that while modern technologies, genres, and platdevelops evolve, the functions of brief composing reprimary intact:

To enshrine: gravestones, monuments, tattoos To amuse: jokes, insults, one-lines, snarky comments To explain: museum texts, recipes, instructions To narrate: micro-fiction, live blogs, diaries To alert and inform: message messperiods, tweets, telegrams, status updates, news bulletins, signage To remember: notes, recaps, lists, ceremonial messages (such as wedding vows) To inspire: proverbs, quotations, prayers, aphorisms To sell: graffiti, adverts, resumes, bumper sticker labels, T-shirts, dating sites To converse: Q&A, social networks, feedearlier loops, blogs, speech balloons

You deserve to detect from these partial lists that the craft of brief writing uses to all creates of expression, not simply the techie ones. Many authors will be as involved via handy, job-connected develops of brief composing — from letters of referral and complaint to job postings, pitch notes, product descriptions, and also classified ads — as they are through positing on social networks.

How short is short? Common feeling dictations that length is relative. I am about 5 feet eleven inches tall, a little over average for Amerideserve to guys. That means that I am too huge to ride a equine in the Kentucky Derby and also as well small to play protective tackle for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

A short story have the right to be even more than three thousand words lengthy, which could be the size of an extensive essay or the longest story in Sunday’s New York Times. A three-hundred word piece of creating is brief by a lot of requirements, however not if you are writing a tweet. Still, for the functions of this book, 3 hundred words seems a reasonable boundary for finding out how to check out, create, and talk around short composing.

I’ve divide this book right into 2 sections, the how and the why of the short composing craft. The how comprises the rhetorical tactics that make a short text tick. The why reveals the helpful uses of brief writing over centuries, the ways in which writers usage brief develops to meet their aspirations, from the quotidian to the eternal.

This development transforms out to be about sixteen hundred words, twice the length necessary to print the Ten Commandments, the Hail Mary, the initially stanza of Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” the Emma Lazarus poem on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, the lyrics to “Over the Rainbow,” and also the words recited by Neil Armstrong when he stepped on to the surchallenge of the moon. I guess I’ve obtained a little more occupational to carry out to master the exquiwebsite craft of how to write short — particularly in these fast times.

See more: Which Of The Following Best Defines Cultural Ecology In Human Geography?

Related: The tricks of exactly how to compose short (Time) | Confessions of an editor: a review of “How To Write Short” (Washington Post) | A long, loving look at creating brief (Visual Thesaurus)

Related training: News University’s Writing Short training package. Go into the promo code 13SHORT50 for a discount.