Sunday, August 28, 2011


I was browsing through The 10% Solution.

I mean the $9.99 book by Ken Rand, not the movie about Sherlock Holmes going to see Sigmund Freud, which is really The 7% Solution since Holmes was in all things careful about his health. That centered on a time when opium dens flourished and cocaine and other drugs were sold over the counter and readily available, when the police only went to opium dens to do the job of detecting, question suspects, and pick up dead bodies and the government was more involved in intrigue and governing the country and not filling the prisons with drug addicts who, they believed, could go to the devil in their own way as long as murder, theft, or fraud were not part of the deal.

They (the British government) also had a strange idea that if the prisons were full to capacity with the downtrodden, debtors, and real criminals who had stolen, defrauded, murdered, beaten, robbed graves, burked people to provide bodies for medical students who needed a cadaver to study, or were mad and shut in Bedlam, among other ills due to the financial disparity between the upper, middle, working, and lower classes (the lower classes driven to crime to feed themselves, their families, and buy gin to get drunk and numb the pain of reality and poverty), the malcontents and miscreants were packed off like chained sardines to Australia where they were out of harm's way, decreased the surplus population, and could drink, whore, steal, drug, and whatever into oblivion away from the increasingly cramped confines of London and the countryside. Australia was also a good place for political prisoners who objected to the poverty, government, and way of life that denied a man all pleasure and sustenance, as were India, the colonies, the Bahamas, Africa, and the other outposts of British control. What's the use of having all that real estate without real Englishmen to populate the lanscape?

Aah, the golden days when the rich got richer and the poor could still get drunk, do drugs, and whore without risking jail. The rich drank, did drugs, and whored, but the likelihood of them seeing the inside of a jail cell was remote. Rank and funds doth impart immunity and privileges. Oh, for the days of opium, a 7% solution of cocaine to relieve boredom and ennui, and plenty of gin, even without the tonic.

I was browsing through The 10% Solution, which is a slim paperback volume priced far too high for the content, about writing tighter, moving the story along faster, by eliminating extraneous words. Those words are mostly connective words, writers' tics, that impede the flow of speedy progress, which is fine in a newspaper report or radio report, but not so fine with regard to the cost and content of books. It's all connected. Everything is connected.

What Rand writes about, in the tone of a sales letter that is long on words and short on getting to the point, is removing words and syllables like And, ly, that, of, ing, but, etc. Those words can provide color and a hint of the writer or character using said words as narrator or in dialogue and are not necessarily obstructive, but Rand believes them to be so, hence the book, which is more an article and less a book without the large type and small size of a less than trade paperback. The cover is nice and so is the introduction by a big fan, and well known author, whose name escapes me at this point.

(Oops, one of those phrases that should be edited out . . . at this point . . . and I do see the point, especially when typing up operative reports in which doctors repeatedly use that and other phrases that basically boil down to and then this happened and then that happened and then and then and then instead of getting directly to the point without all the fluff. "I used a scalpel to cut down through the layers of tissue and entered the abdominal (peritoneal) cavity. The hernia sac contained incarcerated bowel (omentum, muscle, fat, etc.) and was reduced back into the abdominal (peritoneal) cavity, ligated, and closed. Etc., etc., etc. Instead, (another verboten word in tight writing) the doctor goes on and on at length adding as well as instead of and, at this point, instead of moving on or at least using at that point since the text is in past tense, as is the rest of the sentence, and so on. I'd rather have a concise and tightly written/dictated report and lose the pages than have to go on for five minutes -- or up to 20 minutes -- with fluff and garbage. Get to the point.)

To get back to the point (pointless words that do not move the narrative forward), the book is a bloated explanation of a very simple process, something that George R. R. Martin calls sweating the text, which is a screenwriter's term for getting out the fluff and condensing fifty pages to ten, which can be done. I've done it in editing my own work, removing my own writer's tics. Writing tight isn't really my problem since I err on the size of tightness in the first place (self-editing as I write) and usually need to pad the text, only I pad with description and characters and action instead of erm, but, or, at this point, as well as, etc.

Whenever I am forced to listen to, watch, or read reams of text just to tell me a product works with a couple of examples, maybe a testimonial or two, and the price it will cost me to get this miracle, I skip down to the text. When faced with a video scrolling words or a talking head reading said sales text, I shut it down, run a search on the topic, and cut right to the chase.

What I'm am getting around to writing is that, while I do agree with the subject of the over priced book, I don't appreciate paying more than it's worth. Some would say, a little prevention is worth the price of a pound of cure, but they knew the prevention cost less than the full treatment. I'd give Rand's writing tip top marks for the central theme and a big thumbs down for the price. I've bought, read, and written books that didn't cost as much.

I suppose the real point in this meandering post is that everything is connected some way. I started with Sherlock Holmes, moved through scriptwriting, operative reports, and sales letters and came out at the same point where I started. Sort of. I didn't mention the price in the first sentence; that came everything is connected and makes ours a much more interesting life and -- in this case -- a review of a good pamphlet that should not have been a book.

I highly recommend the content. Consider getting the book second hand or checking it out of the library and copying the important material. It's cheaper.

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