Saturday, November 1, 2008

On writing short

Here is an interesting piece on Poynter's web site by a New York Times editorial writer on writing short. There are two things in this piece that really interest me:

One is that the writer, Maura Casey, quotes a fellow NYT writer, Tara Parker-Pope, saying, ""Kitchen sink stories do too much. If you take on a big, unwieldy topic, you can wind up with a big, unwieldy story. Our writing improves when we try to do a little less, but do it better."

She doesn't say it, but to me, she's really talking about story focus -- something we talk about a lot in here and should probably talk about more. Your focus can move a story from mediocre to good, or from good to great.

Another is Casey quoting an NYT editorial writer, Verlyn Klinkenborg, as saying a key to writing short (and doing it well) is no transitions. I had never thought of it that way. Klinkenborg seems to say they're not really necessary in any kind of newspaper writing:

Klinkenborg, who is in the midst of writing a book called, "Several Short Sentences About Writing," believes that the need for transitions is greatly exaggerated.

"They're almost never necessary, not if all the rest of your sentences -- and your sense of velocity and rhythm and your ability to know exactly what you have and haven't said -- are functioning properly," he said in an e-mail. "Many writers (and all newspapers) think readers are stupid, and they treat them that way. They assume that readers will get lost without carefully elaborated transitions between paragraphs. Most writers are taught to worry endlessly about transition. They've been taught the art of the flying trapeze, not how to write."

I'm not sure I agree. I think you can make a strong case for well-executed transitions to help knit a story together, reinforce theme, etc. What do you think?