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I Do Not Want to KISS: the Long and Short of Writing

I have been writing about short, pithy writing, high on impact, low on fluff. Apparently the best in the business agree with me.

Here is Stephen King talking about paring it down in his now classic “On Writing”:

Mostly when I think of pacing, I go back to Elmore Leonard, who explained it so perfectly by saying he just left out the boring parts. This suggest cutting to speed the pace, and that’s what most of us end up having to do (kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings)…I got a scribbled comment that changed the way I rewrote my fiction once and forever. Jotted below the machine-generated signature of the editor was this mot: “Not bad, but PUFFY. You need to revise for length. Formula: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%. Good luck.”

But I have a problem.

I love reading puffy passages like this one from the Brazilian author Jorge Amado in his “Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands”: the widow of a profligate dead husband grieves for him:

Now it was a wait without hope; it availed her nothing to listen to the footfalls, those of the drunks, especially, to the cautious sound of the key in the door, to a scrap of song, to a tune lost in the distance.

Yes, to a tune lost in the distance. Because there had been nights during her seven years of marriage and waiting when Valdinho had come to awaken her with a serenade, with guitar, violin and flute, trumpet and mandolin, repeating that other unforgettable seranade of Ladeira do Alvo, when she had first learned the true nature of her love: poor, without a penny to his name, a petty employee, a chiseler, a deadbeat, a drunk, a libertine, a gambler.

I am seduced by the beauty of the words, by its voluble Latin American charm.

I am lulled, much like the women spellbound by the unbridled passion of the incorrigible charmer Valdinho.

I so wish I could write like this: sometimes I do not want to KISS: Keep it simple, sweet.

I’d much rather be seductive and complicated like Valdinho, and by implication, Jorge Amado.

Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her next literary crime thriller, The Blue Bar, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency, and was published by Thomas & Mercer on January 1, 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • I could edit out a good 10% of what Stephen King publishes without spoiling his work. On the other hand, some work is meant to be “puffy”. It depends on what the writer is trying to achieve, their voice, and so on. And, of course, different readers prefer different styles of writing. If you feel drawn to keep “puffy” passages in, do so – preserve your own voice. That will be more interesting – to the right reader – than a lame attempt to follow someone else’s rule.

  • kwjwrites says:

    I adore writers like Allende and Garcia-Marquez. Their language is succulent and drips with sesory detail. I like good, simple prose as much as the next person, but sometimes it is the surprising detail that makes the reader catch his or her breath.

  • It comes down to what your “voice” will let you get away with in a story. People with strong and compelling voice can do as a they please really. Break all the rules and still leave ’em wanting more.

  • Uppity says:

    Ah, the Latin lyricists – they make their genius look so easy! They are the ones who can pull off puff. The rest of us might be able to, some day… 🙂

  • There are the rare few (very rare) who will read and tune in and appreciate beautiful writing. We don’t all want face-paced, only action-oriented Stephen-King-esque writing. I too am one of the ones who are seduced by the beauty of words.

  • Marie says:

    I read the unabridged version of “The Stand.” That was not short!

    Also, it helps to have an editor.

    Nice post.

  • Zuer says:

    I agree! I hate KISSing sometimes. I am pro-fluff as long as it’s well done and entertaining.

    Oh, and yours is the nicer version of the High School English teacher would always tell me to Keep It Simple, STUPID.

  • Damyanti says:

    Thanks for dropping by both my blogs, I am flattered. My friends who do not have a wordpress acc simply sign on and don’t start a blog, that way they can comment and don’t need to start a whole new blog:)

  • Damyanti says:

    Thanks for stopping by to comment, Star
    As a new writer, I do have a tendency to over-write…but well, that will only get better with time and practice.

  • Latin stories are beautiful indeed! ; )

    BTW, I read your food stories but can’t leave a comment, since I don’t have a WP account. ; )

    BUt know I’m reading and enjoying your sharing!


  • I wonder if King does cut 10%. Just listened to “Duma Key” on CD (vision issues) and it was 18 disks, my longest in two yrs. “Maybe si, maybe no,” as his character Wireman would say in that book.

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