Sunday, 16 August 2009
Too Much, Too Little, Too Late
I’ve said it far too often, so I’ll say it here on last time and never say it again.
I wish everything I’d ever written was a little bit shorter.
Every book, every radio play. Maybe not counting the comics, but everything else. Because in writing shorter always, always, always means better. It’s one of George Orwell’s rules. Shakespeare wrote ‘Brevity is the soul of wit’.
I’m happy to be script-edited harshly by others. I welcome it. I’d be delighted for anything which I’ve written which was supposed to be 25 minutes, but which turned out to be 30, to be cut down to size.
Why? Two reasons. Firstly, when you’re cutting, it gives you a much-needed excuse to be merciless. You keep only what is essential and what is excellent, and throw away the rest. This makes things better. This is why I tend to write massively overlength, so that the process of re-drafting isn’t so much a case of re-writing but of simply dispensing with anything about which any element of uncertainty exists. My best sitcom scripts all started out at 40-odd pages, my film started out at about 150, my novels at 110,000 words.
And cutting is so much easier than padding. Padding can be hell; trying to cheat the reader, viewer or listener into thinking the plot is moving forward when it isn’t. Except in comedy, of course, where it means you can stick in a digression.
Reason two is that if I’ve written something which was intended to be an hour, when I worked out how much plot I would need, and it ended up being over an hour – then it needs to be edited, because it’s not going to have enough going on to justify its duration.
I’ll shut up about this now.