Consider the following two versions of a text the conclusion of a short story written for a training course. The narrator recalls an incident from his childhood. He and his twin brother, aged ten at the time, are waiting in the local barber â€˜s shop to have their hair cut. The barber, preparing to shave another customer, is stropping his razor and grinning at the two boys. A voice on the radio is meanwhile reporting a local murder case â€“ an elderly woman had had her throat cut while eating dinner in bed.
The Police broke into the house the next afternoon. They searched the kitchen and hall, but found nothing out of the ordinary. They then rushed upstairs. Even though they knew what to expect, they were shocked at what they saw. Entering the bedroom, they saw the corpse staring back at them from the bed. She was still sitting upright, but the napkin at herÂ throat now had a dark reddish-brown stain on it.
The barber put down the leather strap. He tested the razor with his thumb. Then he waved it in the air for a moment, and brought it gently down to rest just below the customerâ€™s ear.
This was too much for my brother and me. We looked at each other, and the tension broke. We launched into action. Without a word we jumped up, clutching our hats, and raced out of the shop.
The Police broke into the house the next afternoon. They searched the kitchen and hall: nothing.
They rushed upstairs to the bedroom. And saw the corpse staring back at them from the bed. Still sitting upright-but the napkin at her throat now had a dark stain.
The barber put down the leather strap. He tested the razor with his thumb. Then he waved it in the air for a moment. Then he brought it gently down to rest, just below the customerâ€™s ear.
I looked at my brother. My brother looked at me.
Without a word, clutching our hats, we raced out of the shop.
What makes the edited version so much tighter and more effective and more dramatic? Above all, the simple deletion of various inefficient words, phrases, or sentences. Inefficient because unnecessary for the purpose of the story. The word reddish-brown is unnecessary: a dark stain, in this context, needs no further explaining. Similarly, the sentence we launched into action adds nothing, except wordiness, to the account of the scene.
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