The long and the short

December 14, 2016 Comments Off on The long and the short

There’s a great scene in Four Weddings and a Funeral right near the beginning, at the reception of the first wedding, where Charles and his friend, Fiona, are chatting.

The dialogue goes like this: 

CHARLES: Any idea who the girl in the black hat is?

FIONA: Name’s Carrie.

CHARLES: She’s pretty.

FIONA: American.

CHARLES: Interesting.

FIONA: Slut.

CHARLES: Really?

And with just those few words and a quizzical eyebrow from Hugh Grant, a whole story is told.

There’s a tendency among some writers – professional and amateur – to use far too many words. Many words, they think, will make them seem more clever, more profound, more ‘writerly’.

But writing short is much more difficult, because you can’t explain yourself endlessly. You have to choose that one precise word that will tell a whole story; conjure up an exact image, stoke a compelling emotion.

There’s a quote that’s been attributed to Twain, Lincoln and Hemingway, among others, along the lines of, “I’m sorry this letter is so long; I didn’t have time to write a short one.” Whatever the source, that quote holds great truth. Good concise writing takes time and a craftsman’s touch.

And if you still don’t believe me, here’s a famous six-word story, usually attributed to Ernest Hemingway, which has spawned a genre online. Urban legend has it that he wrote this after a wager with other writers: his authorship is unsubstantiated, but I like to believe it’s true. And anyway, it’s a great story.

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Tell me again how that thing you wrote is too short to say what you need to say?


True romance

December 7, 2016 § 2 Comments

There’s an old man I know, who married his best friend quite late in life. And I remember going to visit them one Sunday afternoon.

While the old man played dolls with my two-year-old in a sun puddle on the carpet,mthis wife served the tea. She brought me my cup and then glanced at her husband with fierce love before looking back at me.

“Do you know what Bill* did this morning?” she said, fingering a string of tiny pink glass beads that lay across the base of her throat. “I had taken this necklace off to go and do something, and I just tossed it onto the bed,” she said. “When I came back into the bedroom, Bill had shaped it into a heart on my bedside table.”

She smiled. Her voice wobbled in sympathy with a welling tear, and another look passed between them. He returned her smile quietly, and returned his attention to wrestling a small doll into tiny clothes, with fingers unaccustomed to the dexterity required.

And I thought, as I witnessed that exquisite moment, that this was what romance was really about.

It’s not about grand gestures, and orchestrated events, and all the stories that Hollywood and the commercial machine tells us romance is about. It’s not about diamonds and string quartets and couples dressed in white, riding horses along a deserted beach. Those standards are set so impossibly high that most of us could never even begin to achieve them.

And I’m not buying it – literally or figuratively. Because I think real romance is in a thousand ordinary moments of understanding what makes your beloved happy, what makes them tick.

It’s a bloom plucked on an early morning walk, a favourite cake bought or baked, a love note on the fridge just because you were thinking of them. It’s a cup of tea together in the garden at the end of a long day, or the sharing of a perfect peach, or a bowl of gleaming cherries after dinner. It’s a badly sung love song, a gentle hand squeeze, a glance across the room at a shared private joke.

We get so caught up in the manufactured idea of what romance looks like that I think we often forget that there’s something much more beautiful, more thoughtful, more meaningful at our disposal every single day.

All it takes is attention, intention, and the willingness to see an ordinary moment as an opportunity to remind someone that they, and they alone, have possession of your heart. And it doesn’t cost a thing.

* Not his real name

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