As a student at COS a couple of years ago, I found several of my classmates with the same problem. Our first assignment (a news story) was so long – we’re talking four to five pages long – that our instructor didn’t read it. She placed a big red mark on it, returned it and asked us to turn it in no longer than two pages long. I learned a lesson. Or did I?
When I was hired by my hometown paper, the problem resurfaced and my first stories were often so long, my mentor would either shake his head or laugh. Oh sure, make fun of my writing. That was about the equivalent of laughing at one of your children – or laughing at a person as they undress prior to sex.
But that is not how he meant it. And thank goodness he taught me about the 18-inch rule.
The 18-inch rule, the clown, the cow and the moon:
Enrique gave me some of the best advice I ever had. OK, so he was the only one giving me advice, though Bill Furth tried but he didn’t teach me anything that I didn’t already know.
This is what Enrique said:
“When you get to nine inches……STOP. Just stop. Don’t go any further. Then, read your work. And you should be about half way done. Then all I had to do was go back in and finish it up. Um…yea...right. That was easier said than done.
It worked. I finally learned to stop writing when I was supposed to. If I was asked for a 10-inch story, I’d stop at five inches and take it from there.
I learned other tidbits of advice from Enrique... Such as “Start with the clown.”
In other words, find the most colorful, interesting thing in your story and start with that. Simple! No further explanation needed.
As to the nursery rhyme of the cow jumping over the moon – the explanation there is simple too.
“Esther, the cow jumped over the moon.”
Mental note to self: Do not write “over 100 people” – it is “more than 100 people”
The same holds true for less than, do not use “under 50 people” unless I have dug a trench and am crawling under them.