Ten pounds of shit in an eight-pound bag

One of my favorite nuggets of writing wisdom comes from my dad. He always accuses the women in my family of trying to shove ten pounds of shit in an eight-pound bag. It applies to almost everything: putting together a to-do list for the day with more than you can accomplish in a week, carrying in all the groceries at once rather than making two or three trips (which might be quicker), decorating a Christmas tree, ordering Chinese food, packing shoes for a three day trip, and on and on and on.


(pic from mitchieville.com)

I tell this to my students every semester: give your stories too much in the beginning. Put ten pounds of shit in that eight-pound bag. Why give a character one thing that’s wrong when you could give him four? Why have one story line when you can have three? The more, the better, I say, because it’s easier to weed out the storyline or conflict that’s not working than it is to try and go back and add one in, or to have only the one that could end up going nowhere, leaving you with an empty bag. I also think the more you have going on, the more likely you are to reach new levels of complication in your story, which lead to new insights and understanding and dimension.

My advice: put ten pounds of shit in that eight-pound bag and see what grows.

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