Monday, February 20, 2012

Overwriting

We all do it. We're writers. Our job is to use words to build a world and characters for our readers, and we can get carried away doing it. I'm going to use my husband as one example, and we'll see if he leaves a comment. Then I'll know if he even reads my blog.

He has a band, called Sweet Love, and whenever someone asks him what type of music they play, he'll say, "It's sort of stoner rock, fuzz rock with metal elements." And the people politely smile and nod. And then I add in, "It's grunge." They smile wider and go, "Oh that's cool."

My husband's description of his music is obviously more accurate, describing all of the different nuances they've worked into their sound. My description is generic, but it's easier to understand and appeals to a broader audience. Which is better?

Author Ann Hood ran a seminar at a writer's conference in Boston I attended and used this great example. She was out with a friend and he made an observation about a guy and said, "His face looks like a ham."

I don't know about you, but I immediately picture this puffy pink-faced man. Now her friend could have used more descriptive words, "His face was swollen and pink, raw around the edges and puffed out around the jaw...." or "His face looked like a ham."

Both descriptions are comprehendable. Both give you the same picture, but the original "ham" comment is more succinct and I think, gives greater insight to Ms. Hood's friend. He's got a sense of humor and doesn't keep his judgments to himself. This is someone I could spend 300 pages with just to see what he's going to say next.

So as you're writing, look closely at those places that seem to be a mile long string of adjectives and see if you can trim them down and add more personality to the piece. Maybe your character is long-winded and you decide to keep the adjectives right where they are. Or maybe you decide to give your MC more of an attitude and change it up. There's a place for both types of writing in the world. You only decide which one you want your piece to be.

3 comments:

DRC said...

sorry...you pictured a puffy pink-faced man when your husband said he had a face like ham. I couldn't picture anything becuse I was laughing too much...

I agree with everything here. We;re often in danger of over-explaining things and complicating things. But saying things like 'he had a face like ham' is a perfect way of writing in your character's voice.

Charlie Holmberg said...

What a good point . . . "His face looked like a ham." Love it! Something I'll keep in mind as I write for sure!

Barry Menard said...

Sorry, I haven't read any blogs in awhile, but I am just getting into the new google reader now...

I hear what you're saying, and for my band as an example, I think we are trying to explain ourselves to fans that are into more specific styles of music, but I agree that appealing to a broader audience is probably never a bad thing :)