I have long been a fan of the short story form. In fact, the short story form is far harder than longer forms of writing. Making your intention clear in a limited amount of words is not an easy task. There is a long line of authors whose work I enjoy but top of the list in this regard has always been Harlan Ellison. There are many reasons I am a life-long, die-hard Ellison fan, but chiefly, my admiration is for his ability to select just exactly the right word for every moment in his stories with never a word wasted.
Here’s a favorite example:
“A foot was planted between my shoulder blades and the fist let go of my shirt, and I was booted forward onto my suitcase, which slid a few feet, carrying me as on a raft.
I fell off, rolled over and tried to sit up. Conquest, Slaughter, Famine and Death were staring down at me.”
Quoted from All the Lies That Are My Life by Harlan Ellison
There is no need to give the reader any more detailed description of the four guys who are about to beat up our protagonist. The phrase “Conquest, Slaughter, Famine and Death” tells you everything you need to know.
Another master at choosing just the right words is Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, who sums up this thought beautifully:
“So the writer who breeds more words than he needs is making a chore for the reader who reads.”
And another famous author offers clarity on the subject. When asked his opinion on cursing Mark Twain had this to say:
“The English language is a poor enough means of communication as it is. I figure we ought to use all the words we got.”
Notice here that he did not advise using MORE words than needed at one time but choosing the RIGHT words for what you are trying to convey at that moment.
Words matter. They can offer great kindness but also great sorrow. They can build relationships or tear down entire communities. Words have weight and meaning and sometimes great consequences.
When you are attempting to evaluate someone’s character listen very closely to the word they choose to use. Their choices are not casual. They are a result of a lifetime of attitudes and perceptions and are evidence of the state of their inner psychology.
The speaker is telling you something about who he is and how he chooses to participate in this thing called Life.
Words matter. Listen closely.