No self-respecting reporter gets through journalism school without reading Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style.” Though I’ve pared down my book collection at least a dozen times since college, I still have my copy, a used version I picked up at the university bookstore, probably for COMM 350, which was a terrifying communications writing class that scared me into the journalistic writer I am today.
So when WordPress challenged bloggers to get economical with our writing, they had me at “challenge.”
However, instead of taking a bloated paragraph from a past post and streamlining it, I’m taking an overwritten paragraph from my past and injecting it with … well, style.
As regular readers of this blog are aware, I’m working on a manuscript based on my high school diaries about the year I turned 15 and learned to French kiss. Here is a word-for-word passage from my diary (some names have been changed):
Jill had a bummer night. Don took her home from the game after they had play rehearsal. Jill walked around during the rehearsal. They were driving around afterwards and after a while they realized they were being followed. It turned out to be Rob Lake and Diana Green, who is a good friend of Bitchy Beth. So they got into a serious game of cat & mouse. Don dropped Jill off and was suddenly cornered in her circle by Diana. She jumped out of the car and started swearing at him and hitting him. Then they both roared away. Jill was really upset because she saw it all.
That’s 108 words in all its 30-year-old glory. Ah, 1983, how I miss thee.
I wanted to use the story in my manuscript, but it needed some zest, so I turned it into a conversation, which gives an opportunity for character development, drama and maybe a little humor. My first pass was 251 words; a bit of tinkering brought it down to 237 (Strunk and White be damned, I sort of like “super” in “super bummed” and my double negative about Diana’s likeability — this is not a news story, it’s memoir):
When she was relating it on the phone the next morning, Jill was super bummed out.
“So, I ran into Don last night.”
“What?! You ran into Don’s car? Or he ran into you? He’s a crazy driver.”
“No, not actually ran into. He pulled into my driveway after I pulled into the garage, so he and I drove around for a while.”
“I thought Bitchy Beth said he wasn’t supposed to talk to you.”
“Yeah, well, he wasn’t. While we were cruising, we realized we were being followed.”
“Rob Lake and Diana Green.”
Diana was David Green’s sister, but that wasn’t the only reason not to like her. “Isn’t Diana good friends with Bitchy Beth?”
“Yes. We tried to lose them. Then Don dropped me off, but he couldn’t escape my circle.”
Jill lived in a modern split-level on a cul-de-sac in the newer part of Wadena.
“What happened?” I was glued to the handset.
“They cornered him. Diana jumped out of Rob’s car and started swearing at Don and throwing fists, like, seriously pounding on him. Then she jumped into Rob’s car, and they drove off. Don rocketed out of my circle like he was embarrassed.”
“Oh, my God. What did you do?”
“Nothing. What was I supposed to do? Come to his rescue? I was already in the house, but I saw the whole thing.”
“Yeah, wow. This totally sucks.”