Making Word(s) Count #2: Playing the Trump Card

magicbk600pxwideAction and suspense sequences and scenes with high emotional content (as in romantic situations) are probably the most important type of scene that can be sabotaged by excess verbal baggage or convoluted sentences. There are also sentences that are intended as “trump cards” that are played with a flourish at the end of a scene, chapter or story. They function like the punch line in a joke, and they work only when they are punchy (concise) enough to convey their full meaning in one bite.

I use these a lot in my short fiction especially. My last Analog story—”Garden Spot” which was published this last December—was an extremely short story that relied on such a trump line. I rewrote that line multiple times until I had it down to the fewest number of words I could contrive, because I wanted the reader to get the joke and I wanted the punch line to be a surprise.

There are also trumps a writer puts into a story that are intended to elicit a gasp or an aha! as a piece of the puzzle falls into place.

Years ago in a writers’ workshop at a regional con, I was given a comedic story that had a trump sentence reveal. The story was based on real world scenarios in which a dolphin save a drowning person from a shark attack. In the course of the shark attack, each swimmer got a finger snapped off. The writer posited a conspiracy between sharks and dolphins calculated to put dolphins in a man’s best friend category. The punch line went something like this: “Those people were probably drowning because they just had their ring finger snapped off”. (In reality, I’m pretty sure you could swim without one ring finger, though I’m sure it would hurt like bloody hell.)

This is rather long to be a trump sentence dilutes any surprise or “aha!” the writer might’ve been trying to set up. Since I didn’t have a clear idea of where the writer was going with this, I couldn’t even suggest a punchier rewording. I could only hope that the writer understood what I was trying to convey when I said, “There are too many words here.”

Next time: Immediacy and Concurrency


About Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff

Writer of speculative fiction as the result of a horrible childhood incident involving Klaatu and a robot named Gort, Maya is the New York Times Bestselling author of STAR WARS LEGENDS: THE LAST JEDI, and THE ANTIQUITIES HUNTER. Her fantasy trilogy, The Mer Cycle, is available in print or eBook from the BVC Bookstore.


Making Word(s) Count #2: Playing the Trump Card — 1 Comment

  1. There are =often= too many words. It is rare indeed when the reader complains, “Oh, that was too short, snappy and clear — can you obfusticate for me?”
    The only exception clause for wordiness is in the cause of character. People should sound like they are, if you understand me. A character born in the Twitter generation is going to write and speak in far different rhythms than someone born when Dickens was a best selling author. For this purpose alone, the author is invited to throw standard word order to the winds.