It is with words as with sunbeams. The more they are condensed, the deeper they burn.
By Caleb Pirtle III
Several years ago, something happened.
And I don’t know why.
My writing changed.
My style changed.
I began writing short.
I didn’t sit down one morning, stare down at my keyboard, and say, “Well, I think that sentence would work better if it were shorter.”
But there they were.
Scattered on the page.
Jump into the story.
Leave when the story is told.
Now, apparently, the great James Patterson agreed with me.
Patterson launched a whole new line of books.
He called them Bookshots.
They were short, 40,000-word novellas designed to be read quickly and cheaply and at one sitting.
You can race through these, Patterson says.
They’re like reading a movie.
He calls them stories at the speed of light.
Patterson says he wants to tap into a new market: the twenty-seven percent of Americans who have not read a book of any kind in the past year.
Books, they say, are too long.
Hardcover books, they say, are too expensive.
In reality, Patterson brought back the dime novel.
In today’s hectic, fast-paced, impatient world, there’s no reason to write long when short can do the job much better.
For example, I no longer write a chapter describing the sunset.
I merely write: “The sun fell red like blood beyond the trees and into the river.”
I don’t need to write a thousand words to describe the sun going down.
We’ve all seen it go down.
We know how it looks.
We know what it does.
My latest release is Lonely Night to Die, which has three noir thrillers written as novellas.
Each one stars the same character.
The CIA wants him dead.
Patterson would call them bookshots.
I won’t disagree.
More and more, I am embracing the admonition that’s it’s best to enter a story late and leave early.
Others in the writing profession have been doing it for a long time.
As August Wilson said, “The simpler you say it, the more eloquent it is.”
And Josh Billings pointed out, “There’s great power in words if you don’t hitch too many of them together.”
Even Thomas Jefferson had an opinion: “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.”
As far as Baltasar Gracian was concerned, “Good things, when short, are twice as good.”
John Rushkin believed, “Say all you have to say in the fewest possible words, or your reader will be sure to skip them, and in the plainest possible words or he will certainly misunderstand them.”
Said Diderot: “Pithy sentences are like sharp nails driving truth into our memory.”
Mark Twain warned, “As to the adjective, when in doubt, strike it out.”
And Friedrich Nietzsche summed it up by writing: “It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book.”
When it’s all said and done, however, I prefer the insights of Arthur Plotnik and Robert Southey.
Said Plotnik: “You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what’s burning inside of you. And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke.”
Southey then drove the point home: “It is with words as with sunbeams. The more they are condensed, the deeper they burn.”
That says it all.
No need to write anything more.
And let Southey’s words burn and be read at James Patterson’s speed of light.
Caleb Pirtle III
began his career writing about history and travel. He learned quickly, however, that what happens is never as important as those who make it happen. Many of those people have made their way into his novels.
He is the author of more than 65 published books, including the new noir suspense thrillers, Golgotha Connection, Secrets of the Dead, Conspiracy of Lies and Night Side of Dark. His other novels include Back Side of a Blue Moon and Friday Nights Don’t Last Forever.
He has written such award winners as “XIT: The American Cowboy,” “Callaway Gardens: the Unending Season,” “The Grandest Day,” “Echoes from Forgotten Streets,” and “Spirit of a Winner.” His nonfiction works include Gamble in the Devil’s Chalk and No Experience Required.
Caleb earned a journalism degree from The University of Texas and became the first student at the university to win the national William Randolph Hearst Award for feature writing. As a reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he received both the Texas Headliner’s and Associated Press Awards.
He served as travel editor for Southern Living Magazine, and his travel writing was given the National Discover America Award three times. For more than two decades, Pirtle was editorial director for a custom publishing company in Dallas.
He has also written teleplays for network television.
Find more about Caleb at his: