D.L. Koontz

Writing: The Long and the Short of It

Old-rusty-typewriterI first became aware of Mark Twain, as a child, while watching reruns of the TV show Bonanza.

In one episode, Ben Cartwright is shown sitting in his big leather wingback chair laughing raucously while reading a book. Viewers soon learn he’s reading a Twain novel and that the author would be in Carson City soon to deliver a lecture.

I remember thinking – how wonderful! This author person gets to write stories, entertain people, travel around the old West to read aloud from his novels, and stay in the best hotels and homes that money could buy (given the era and locale). That further solidified the author notion in my head.

Fast-forward a few years, and I found myself in high school English classes suffering through the garbled dialect in Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. Clearly, the novel is a classic and a masterpiece for its day, but it’s not easy to read a language that has its own rules and vocabulary. No wonder writing instructors tell us to go easy on dialect, only reminding the reader of it occasionally.

Now, I told you that story to tell you this one (my grandfather used to say that…I come from a long line of saged fablers): I think Mark Twain was brilliant. Besides having a great gig going as a writer back in the day, he left us with some quotes that sometimes awe me with his insight.

My all-time favorite Twain quote: “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

It’s whimsical and witty, but spot-on.

Twain left us many lessons in that quote:

·         It takes time, and rewrites, to write tight and light and mean.

·         If you write and it seems to come too easy, it probably has.  You may have some serious editing ahead of you.

·         A longer piece of writing is probably filled with unnecessary adjectives/adverbs, and may lose the reader.

·         Keep it simple, stupid (KISS).

·         Keep it tight, too.

·         A lengthy piece of work probably is not your best effort.

·         Take the time to perfect your work; you’ll be glad you did.

What do you glean from this quote? What’s your favorite Mark Twain saying?

Photo/bigstockphoto

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5 thoughts on “Writing: The Long and the Short of It”

  1. Great post, Debra. One of my favorite Twain quotes is ”Don’t say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.” Valuable advice! Thanks for sharing. I enjoyed the stroll through memory lane via the Bonanza scene. 🙂

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  2. You will NOT believe this, but I remember that episode of Bonanza. I LOVED that show! [Oops! I think I just showed my age!” Oh, well … ] But I totally agree with your advice about dialect. It’s necessary for us to get a better picture of our character. But if I used my SE Texas vernacular all the time, ya’ll would never get it? Only “ya momma and them” would understand it. [Ain’t that right, ya’ll?] So, I always edit out my verb tense issues and SE TX slang, unless I need it in my dialog. Great article, Debra!

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    1. Karen, you were watching reruns! Not original shows (wink). And yes, if I used the language here in the deep South, I’d be writing “fixin” a lot and not many outside of the region would understand. Although, I am fixin to use that word at some point….

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