The Art And Science Of Brevity

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Using my unreleased manuscript An Angel On Her Shoulder, I am showing you my techniques for reworking a story into a more readable, more enjoyable piece. It’s 45+ lessons in about 45 days. (To start at Chapter 1, click HERE.)

To view it best, bring up the two versions in different windows and view them side by side to see what was changed.

Then give me your thoughts in the comment section.

 

Today, A Quiz

You’ve been following along, learning my techniques for a while. Read the two versions of this chapter and tell me why I did what I did. I’ll see you below and give you my answer.


Chapter 15 “FINAL”

By the time I got home from my visit to the church, dinner had been waiting. That’s never good. Things were already tense enough at home.

My wife is a terrific cook. We don’t cook at home as often as we should, but we do it more now that we have a kid. It takes effort, and being on time to appreciate that effort is, well, appreciated. Mallory didn’t seem upset, though, so maybe I could slide.

Everybody has their own favorite steak. Mine used to be a rib eye, but somewhere along the line we found out about churrasco. It’s skirt steak, what they call peasant food. I think we went to a Spanish restaurant, and while enjoying a really awesome dinner, Mallory kept saying, “You know this isn’t that difficult of a steak to make. I bet we could make this at home . . .”

Tonight, that’s what she made—and I mostly missed it.

The thing about churrasco is, like all steaks, it tends to be a heavy meal. That means it’s delicious, but you can easily overdo it and eat too much. Like every time we have it. That’s the risk. I have been known to lose control when churrasco steak is on the menu.

Later in the night, after stuffing myself with chips and salsa and beer and delicious skirt steak, I will not have indigestion—if I’m lucky. I’d had a roller coaster ride of emotions with Father Frank, followed by some near nightmare style daydreams, if you can call them that. The floodgates were open, and Father Frank had opened them.

There were only one or two problems.

First, he didn’t really answer my question. Maybe I didn’t ask it right, but I wanted to know what we should be doing about all the things that were going on. I got caught up in Father Frank’s conversation that allowed for the fact that I wasn’t going crazy, and that was good, but we didn’t take the next step. What was I supposed to do about what was happening?

Second, what do I tell my wife?

Strangely, she didn’t ask. I think she knew that I’d get around to telling her eventually, but she may have also been happy not to hear if it was bad news. Or she may have just not wanted her nice day spoiled. Either way, she didn’t bring it up. And since we were having a good time with Sophie, who was always within ear shot, that was probably best.

Maybe the plan was to let our daughter fall asleep first, and then talk after we put her to bed. Good plan.

The only flaw in it was, since we were both full of skirt steak, we all fell asleep on the couch after dinner. Somewhere around midnight, Mallory woke up and carried Sophie off to bed, covering me with a blanket as I snored on the couch.

Then around 3am, I woke up with my throat and belly on fire, and my forehead full of sweat. I’d like to blame the churrasco, or the howling gusts of wind from the start of the tropical storm . . .

But the nightmare about the lions in the woods is what did it.


Original Chapter 15, An Angel On Her Shoulder

 

It was late when I got home from my visit to the church. Dinner had been waiting.

 

That’s never good.

 

Things were already tense enough around here.

 

My wife is a terrific cook. We don’t cook at home as often as we should, but we do it more now that we have a kid. It takes effort, and being on time to appreciate that effort is, well, appreciated. Michele didn’t seem upset, though, so maybe I could slide.

 

Before Savvy came along, Michele and I ate out or ordered in a lot. Probably at least three times a week. There were hardly ever any dishes to do back then.

 

That sure changed when Savvy came along. There was a constant stream of bottles that needed to be washed. I mean, it was just constant. And both of us chipped in. Our kitchen sink area became one huge bottle washing station.

 

Somewhere in that conversion, we decided – and by we, I mean my wife – decided that we needed to eat healthier. I don’t know why I bought into it this time, as opposed to all the other times she had introduced the prospect of eating healthier, but it may have had something to do with the idea of developing healthier habits as a way of setting a good example for our kid. I think that’s the part that got me. You can never know for sure; wives are sneaky that way.

 

Anyway, it was a good idea before and an even better idea now, so I got on board. When a young couple has their first child, they kind of fall off the face of the Earth for a while. It’s an accumulation of lack of sleep, and being bent into a pretzel over a new schedule that they do not control. It takes a toll, but friends notice it most when they get together for happy hour and ask, hey, where’s so and so? We haven’t seen them in ages.

 

You have a lot more sympathy for that stuff after you go through it yourself.

 

So, partly to set a good example, and partly to eat healthier, we started eating at home more, and that meant cooking more. For me, it was an interesting transition. I liked to cook, I just sucked at it. I think I had one or two things I could make really well, and that was it. But every day, I ran on a treadmill, and there was a TV parked in front of it, with a recorder. It was there as a method of keeping me from getting bored. I had twisted my knee a few years earlier, running on uneven surfaces like roads; the doctors advised that a treadmill would be best if I wanted to keep running into my old age. And since I did, I bought one.

 

It was a big transition, going from running outside in the fresh air, to running inside staring at a wall. But there were advantages. For one thing, no stray dog was likely to attack me on the treadmill. Also, as it turns out, it rarely rains in the house, where the treadmill is located. There is air conditioning, cable TV, and a cool drink just a few feet away on the counter.

 

So I learned to love my treadmill in a way I never enjoyed running on the street. The only down side was that it got boring. That’s where the TV came in.

 

You can only watch so much news or sports, so when we made the decision to eat healthier, I scanned the DVR to find cooking shows. There were lots of them to choose from, but just like any other TV series, there are enough different ones on that you can find something that works for you.

 

Each day, I’d climb onto my treadmill and watch world famous chefs make things, and I’d pick up some ideas along the way. Because my wife is a good cook, we usually already had the ingredients, or she knew where to get them. Then we’d chop celery or shred carrots – is it shred? Or grate? Anyway, we learned to make good tasting soups and all kinds of new entrees.

 

I learned to make bread. Yep. By hand. And I got pretty good at it.

 

Don’t go patting me on the back just yet, though. Making bread was just one step away from making pizza, and I love me some pizza. Under the guise of eating healthier, I worked it so that I got to eat pizza WAY more often. My bread is good, but my pizza rocks.

 

Anyway, we started cooking at home more, and that meant we spent even less time out and about, but it was okay. We had our little bundle of joy keeping us entertained, and we had a stack of bottles that always needed washing. So, yeah, we kind of fell of the face of the Earth for a while.

 

But our culinary expertise increased exponentially. Michele was already a good cook; now she was a great one.

 

While I used to lament that she almost poisoned me with coconut shrimp once when we were dating, now she could serve up lavish, restaurant quality dinners. One favorite was called churrasco steak.

 

Everybody has their own favorite steak. Mine was probably a rib eye. Growing up, my brother liked a New York strip. Michele like filet mignon. But somewhere along the line, we found out about churrasco. It’s skirt steak; what they call “peasant food.” Tasty stuff. I think we ate at a Spanish restaurant somewhere, and while eating a really awesome dinner, Michele kept saying, you know this isn’t that difficult of a steak to make. I bet we could make this at home…

 

Now, there is another advantage to eating at home. You save a lot of money. That’s only a good thing if you have a good cook in the house, because otherwise everybody’s gonna be miserable. But if you have a chef in the kitchen whipping up delicious meals, you can save money and eat better, too. And if you have a college fund that you’re now putting money away into every month, it can grow a little faster. I’m driving an older can and eating at home more often, but my kid can go to a better school. I’m fine with that. Because there is more pizza and steaks, too.

 

The thing about churrasco is, like all steaks, it tends to be a heavy meal. That means it’s darned tasty stuff, but you can easily overdo it, and eat too much. Like, every time we have it. That’s the risk. I have been known to lose control when churrasco steak is on the menu.

 

It starts simple enough: some chips and salsa (I can make a mean salsa now, too), followed by a beer or two, followed by a churrasco steak and maybe some grilled onions and peppers. Kind of like fajitas, you know? Like you’d get at Chili’s? In fact, if you served churrasco all sliced up in strips with tortillas, it would probably be fajitas.

 

Now, it’s not the steak’s fault, but it’s the gateway drug. Having churrasco allows me to eat spicy chips and salsa, beer, onions… and a lot of steak. Then I sit there, stuffed, and unable to move. Michele goes and plays with Savvy while I put the dishes in the sink, and we all settle down to watch TV or play Candy Land.

 

Later in the night, if I am lucky, I will not have indigestion. Someday I will figure out which part of the equation actually causes my stomach to revolt, the chips or the salsa or whatever, but as for now it is a happy game of Russian Roulette I play, wherein I stuff myself with churrasco and accoutrements, and then about one time out of six, I wake up with my throat and belly on fire.

 

Understand, that means five out of six steak dinners go down without a fight. And we don’t eat churrasco every week or anything. It’s a treat. But it must be respected.

 

Tonight, I did not show the churrasco the proper respect. I’d had a roller coaster ride of emotions with Father Frank, followed by some near nightmare style daydreams – if you can call them that. The floodgates were open, and Father Frank had opened them.

 

There were only one or two problems.

 

First, he didn’t really answer my question. Maybe I didn’t ask it right, but I wanted to know what we should be doing about all the things that were going on. I got caught up in Father Frank’s conversation that allowed for the fact that I wasn’t going crazy, and that was good, but we didn’t take the next step. What was I supposed to do about what was happening?

 

Second, what do I tell my wife?

 

Strangely, she didn’t ask. I think she knew that I’d get around to telling her eventually, but she may have also been happy not to hear if it was bad news. Or she may have just not wanted her nice day spoiled. Either way, she didn’t bring it up. And since we were having a good time with Savvy, who was always within ear shot, that was probably best.

 

Maybe the plan was to let our daughter fall asleep first, and then talk after we put her to bed. Good plan.

 

The only flaw in it was, since we were both full of churrasco, we all fell asleep on the couch after dinner.

 

Somewhere around midnight, Michele woke up and carried Savvy off to bed, and covered me with a blanket as I slept on the couch.

 

Then around 3am, I woke up with my throat and belly on fire, and my forehead full of sweat.

 

I’d like to blame the churrasco steak, or the howling gusts of wind from the start of the tropical storm…

 

But the nightmare about being chased by lions is what did it.


ANALYSIS

I bet you nailed it. The stuff I took out, while entertaining in its own right, and maybe would make an amusing blog post, was not really related to our main plot.  It was sideshow stuff, and humorous, but it took over 1000 words to say what 500 could.

I went through and highlighted in yellow all the things I thought I could lose, and then highlighted in blue the stuff I was certain I could lose. I liked it all, but if I had to trim to the bone, what could go? All the highlighted stuff, that’s what. I softened the transitions and added a line here and there, but the fluff went away.

Now I have a 500 word chapter (that even has a little cliffhanger at the end). I’ll can stick it onto the start of the next chapter or maybe just leave it as is.You can have 500 word chapters. There’s no law against it.

Now:

head shot
your humble host

Let me have your comments. The next chapters will post tomorrow but they will ALL come down shortly after February 15, so don’t dawdle!

You are readers, too. Your input will shape the final product. Be honest.

Share and reblog these! Your friends need to know this stuff, too.

Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the amazingly great sci fi action thriller “The Navigators.” Click HERE to get your copy of The Navigators – $2.99 or FREE on Kindle Unlimited!

Available in paperback and audio book, too!

 

 

 

 

 

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