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The Page Game

Updated: Dec 25, 2022

Even fiction authors like games. I don’t mean dull digressions like crossword puzzles or word searches. I’m referring to vigorous, fruit-bearing literary aerobatics such as how many paragraphs can I write without using a to-be verb? Or, writing a short story backward. Not exciting enough for you? How about something even more tantalizing. I have played a game for years that has helped transform my writing from banal lethargy to transcendent elegance. I write my stories as a series of 15-25-page single-spaced Microsoft Word documents. I have reasons for breaking up large files into a number of smaller ones, but those are for another discussion. You want to know now? I break up large files into smaller ones because:

  • I don’t want to wait for my entire novel to load before working on it.

  • Dividing a large document into smaller ones makes it look like I’m doing more work.

  • If I corrupt or accidentally delete one file I won’t have damaged my entire novel, even though I back up my files both on my computer and offsite.

  • Separating novels into individual smaller pieces helps me remember that all chapters are of equal value. How can a story have a saggy middle if there's a new start at the beginning of every Word document?

The Page Game

The Page Game goes like this: When editing one of these 15-25-page Word documents, I don’t go on to the next document until I have cut a page’s worth or more of fat.

It's as simple as that. This technique helped me eliminate 80,000 words from a 180,000-word first draft. If you play the Page Game, your resulting stories will be stronger and crisper. You’ll have fewer words to play with. This will force you to use better ones. You'll have more space available for rich description, scene, plot, narration, introspection, mood, and theme.

Ernest Hemingway

In case you're tempted to disagree with me on this, read what Ernest Hemingway confided to F. Scott Fitzgerald. The following is a direct quote:

"I write one page of masterpiece

to ninety-one pages of shit.

I try to put the shit in the wastebasket."

Let's aspire to practicing the Page Game as much as Ernest Hemingway did.

De Blaise Pascal

In 1657, De Blaise Pascal, one of the smartest mathematicians who ever lived on Earth, wrote a letter to the Reverend Fathers of the Jesuits that contains the following passage:

“Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue

que parce que je n’ai pas

eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.”

which in English means ("this" referring to his letter),

“I did this longer, because I did not have the time to make it shorter.”

It's clear that both Pascal (who the modern-day unit of pressure, "Pascal," is named after), and Hemingway understood the need to play the Page Game. If you want your work to be as good as theirs, I recommend that you follow their example.

A kind of editing mark I call a "smile," where I delete unneeded dialog tags in the middle of a paragraph. I call them "smiles" because their ends curl upward to cross out the quotation marks, and because crossing out words makes me happy.

Speed Edit

Have you heard of Speed Chess? Speed Edit is almost as fun.

After printing out a section of your novel and marking up every page to tighten up the wording, set the work aside until the next morning. Then, upon waking up, scan through the pages and make at least one correction or improvement on every page. Give yourself a time limit of, say, two minutes for your entire fifteen-page section. You'd be surprised how quickly you can improve every page in such a short amount of time.

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