The Benefits of Brevity

Jun 01 2015

This past Saturday I read two books from start to finish. Crazy, right? Not really: one of them was a Warren Ellis' 8-page comic book Aetheric Mechanics and the other was Dave Eggers' latest novel Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? clocking in at 212 pages.

They both benefited from being short.

The former is a twist on a Sherlock and Holmes mystery set in a steampunk 1907 London. The setup and reveal aren't that original, yet the conclusion and one specific line left me with something to think about.

Eggers' new novel is 100% dialogue and takes place in only one setting. In stark constrast to his debut that he's best known for, it's limited to only a few issues. Yet the end left me with something to contemplate.

Each story works because of its length. If they were twice as long they would have diluted their point. By not drawing out their conclusions they are able to surprise. Afterward it's up to the reader to fill in the details with her imagination. In my opinion this is a good test for any worthwhile fiction.

This concept can apply to other areas too, even technology products. Instead of implementing many features, do only a few things well. Perhaps try for only one. Delight your users with the "magic" that your product performs. And then get out of their way. There's another product that fills the rest of the void better than you can.

And there are always more books to read.

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Dave Walk is a software developer, basketball nerd and wannabe runner living in Philadelphia. He enjoys constantly learning and creating solutions with Go, JavaScript and Python. This is his website.