I'm watching a real, live, honest-to-God, Native American pow-wow.
The indigenous outfits have a kaleidoscopic array of designs, colors and materials. The materials include everything from the ubiquitous eagle and turkey feathers and beads to turtle shells to tin cans. I’ve even seen compact discs being used.
There are different categories: fancy, grass, straight, buckskin, and traditional, among others. Within each category, each tribe has a specific look and then each individual outfit is unique. They can cost the dancer thousands to assemble and take years to put together your own look. All of the patterns and symbols are from a particular tribes heritage have meanings even if the person wearing it doesn't know it.
The outfit is just as important in the competition as the dance itself. If the judge sees something that doesn’t fit with the category they count it off the overall score. Watching the competition, I have no idea how the judges decide between the contestants. But then again they’ve been doing this for years as well and know what to look for.
As they say, the devil is in the details. The same goes for writing. And it doesn't really matter what type of writing. To me it becomes a matter of efficiency.
The most economical writing is of course; poetry. No wasted words allowed there. Short stories have to remain short; so no excess words are allowed. Even in screenplays, every word counts. If you've ever seen a screenplay its pages are mostly white space.
Although the reader likes to be taken on a good yarn, they don’t like to be taken down the bunny trail, into the bunny hole, and left groping around in the darkness.
Words work together to pass along information. This information has to be moving the story forward in some manner. Even if the information is to lead the reader astray, it has to make sense in the overall story or character evolution.
With your words, you've got to weave a tapestry. The different strands of storyline have to intertwine together to pull together the story until they are no longer required. If a strand is cut prematurely, the picture becomes incomplete and or incoherent.
And today's reader picks up very quickly if loose threads are waving all over the place leading nowhere. Even in a large work such as a novel, it's important not to make disappearing bunny trails.
Unnecessary words will strike in the reader's face like a duelist’s glove slapping a knight. Just like the dance judge has spent years involved in the dance, an editor has spent endless hours reading seemingly endless submissions.
When you’ve read as much material as they have, you become very good at catching someone smearing a perfectly good piece of paper with bull doo-doo. And when they see it, the page inevitably ends up in the cylindrical file next to their desk.
I have to confess that I've been known to skip a paragraph or two in a novel if it looks like it's just description. I know it's blasphemy, but I've been trained by today's culture to get down to it and not waste time. Even when relaxing your supposed to be multi-tasking and focused on making sure you finish your relaxing on time while planning your next vacation.
Although sometimes it's just that the book is so good I can't wait to get to the end. But trying to get to the end as fast as possible has become a bad of habit of way too many people.
So to make sure that you keep the paragraph skippers reading and your project from ending up in the round filing cabinet, you’ve got to make every word count.
Regular IN columnist Ken Robinson grew up and lives in Oklahoma. After five years in Ireland, he's been writing screenplays for three and a half years. Four of his scripts have been optioned by Woofenil Works, two low-budget projects now in preproduction, as well as West Law. His email address is: Krobinson104@hotmail.com