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Indiana Jones and the Editors of the Lost Plot

Here’s a writing tip from none other than Harrison Ford. Sort of.

In a 2018 Rolling Stone interview about filming Raiders of the Lost Ark, Ford revealed his solution to a seemingly impossible dilemma. Remember that scene where a big, terrifying guy is flashing a sword around, obviously ready to lop off one of Indiana Jones’ body parts? How ever would Indy get out of this one?

Everyone was stumped. Then Ford came up with the answer.

“Why don’t I just shoot him?”

I thought of this recently, when editing a client’s novel. She had opened the book by having her main character preparing to tell her life story to her two grown children. The author brought the kids back at the end, but now there were three – and no reference to the third in the opening or anywhere else.

When I pointed this out, she puzzled over how to rewrite the opening to explain the third child in the ending. Neither of us had a good answer. The introduction worked well, and adding a third child to justify the ending felt like what it was: a pointless add-on.

Then the words of Harrison Ford came to me.

“Why don’t you just take the third child out of the ending?” I suggested.

“Oh. Right!” I could feel her sense of relief through the phone.

It may feel like you’re taking the easy way out, which we tend to resist because isn’t writing supposed to be hard? But the simplest solution is often the best.

Don’t twist yourself in knots trying to make something work when it won’t. If some part of your writing is giving you trouble, whether in a novel or a business plan, the perfect solution may be to . . . just shoot it.