This is the advice Matt Stone and Trey Parker (The Book Of Mormon, South Park) gave in their Ted Talk: Never, ever be able to describe your plot with an "And then..." A story trimmed of fat will follow a path of two words, and two words only: Therefore or But. Beautiful. Simple. Occam's razor. So, like this: "There's this girl in a cemetery, and then she meets this other lady, and then they go to the river, and then there's this other guy, and then he says ohmyGodIamsoboredkillmenow....."
See how boring? Yeah. That was my first try at novel writing, 100,000 words of "And then...." I sent this thing out. Seriously. To AGENTS. One incredibly kind one received this mess and took pity on me, he actually called me up and said he loved my prose but couldn't find the story in all the mess, he asked me to just tell him what the plot was - essentially, he wanted the central conflict, he wanted the nutshell, he wanted the Therefore and But.
But all I could give him was a bunch more "And then...." Ugh. Daniel Lazar, I salute you and thank you eternally for trying. He wanted to love it, he tried so hard to justify his love of it. But if I, the flipping writer, could not glean a compelling story from all those words, how was he supposed to?
Now compare that to:
"There's this girl who is scared of death but she now lives in a cemetery therefore when she meets this other girl she tries to escape but there's a secret keeping her trapped in the graves therefore when the gravedigger offers a way out she's psyched but...."
I think this sounds way more compelling, no matter the plot which by the way, that's not the plot of At Need, that was an example, however - all I'm saying is, it keeps me on my toes when revising and the questions of "Keep, throw out, or save for another book" come up. Which, sure, the Therefore and But rule is just another way of articulating Ye Olde Chestnut of "Does this scene advance the plot and/or character development in conjunction with said plot and if not, cut it. Now." But it is more concise, and I dearly love concise. Also I dearly love any rule I can hear in my head spoken in the voice of Cartman. "God**mnit! Cut that sh*t, right now! Therefore! But!"
It was only after I implemented this Therefore and But rule that I landed an amazing agent who continues to encourage this behavior, making At Need better with each pass. Revision is not for the weak-hearted, I tell you.
As I revise I've got this mantra running a loop in my head but then sometimes I'm all, "But this part is so pretty and look at my awesome vocab gymnastics!" and the smart part of my brain says, "Shut the hell up! Therefore or But! Only!" Which is not to say there cannot be beauty in the execution, not at all; I mean for God's sake nothing is more boring than stale, pedestrian words and a bunch of similes when a good metaphor will do - but I need to remember, let the beauty be always in the execution, and at the service of, Therefore or But. Only.
Now see, I'll write this post and my book will come out and someone will read this and go, "Uh, you should have taken your own advice, Hooker." And I'll say right now, yeah - I'm sure I'll fail at points in the attempt. But today, in the midst of revision, it's all I think about and I'm doing my level best to make it happen and the more I pour my attention into it the more I'm making it happen. Sometimes maybe my Therefore is someone else's And Then, so maybe once in a while it comes down to perception. But I'll tell you one thing - it's a mantra that has clearcut hundreds of words from this book, and to my future readers I say, in all humility, You're Welcome for the approximately extra forty five minutes of your life you get to keep. Thanks, Matt and Trey!