Last week, we were individually challenged to silently act out an everyday activity using first four, then ten, and then twenty moves. My daughter and husband took their turns early on, with hilarious results as they tried to brush their teeth and feed the cats. When it was my turn, I was asked to paint a wall.
With just four moves, I was able to put the paint can down, open it, and pick up the paint brush.
With ten moves to use, I rolled out a drop cloth, then placed and opened the paint can. Next, I picked up the paint brush and began my first stroke of paint on the wall.
When I attempted the same task with 20 moves, something happened. Suddenly, I developed a character – I was able to show how I felt about having to paint the wall. It was a nuisance. I moved as if this was a BIG chore. I threw the drop cloth down. I could almost hear the paint can as I let it fall to the floor. I pried the can open, put my tray down, and began to pour the paint in. That was when I slipped, and poured paint on the floor instead of in the tray. Frustrated, I dropped the paint can, which spilled more paint, which I got on my hands. ARGH! I threw my hands in the air, then onto my head. I tried wiping my hands on my pants, then, noticing the hand prints there, I proceeded to wipe them on my shirt as well. I looked at myself, sighed heavily, then picked up the paint roller and calmly started to paint the wall.
As you can see, simply writing about the process of 4/10/20 perfectly illustrates the difference in terms of what you can accomplish and share with your reader, depending on the length of your sentences or the complexity of your process. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing fiction or non-fiction, an article, short story or novel. There are times, in your writing, to use only four steps. There are also times to use twenty steps. The trick is learning when to use which technique for your reader. Which one will serve your reader best for what you are writing?
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