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March 16, 2010 / theoldsilly

Professor Old Silly’s Tutorial Tuesday – Use Some Restraint, Please

Welcome back to Bloggyversity, English Comp Class 10001.3b, “Writing With Power in Fiction”. Have a seat, as in right now, please. I need your full and immediate attention. We are, as usual, on a maximum 5 minute blog-hoppers’ attention span time limit. Plus I have a very important tea and crumpets date with Ms. Flanders in just a few minutes, so …  stop with the freshman flirting and sophomoric shenanigans, turn off your ipods, cell phones, black and/or raspberries, stop with the twittering, get your faces out of Facebook, boot up your monitors, adjust your undies, scoot your bums into your seats and be still. I’m in no mood for your typical scallywag behavior. And if you’re good, I have some fresh-baked “Delightful Death by Chocolate” brownies for you all after class, courtesy once again of Ms. Flanders … god bless her.

Ahem. Now that’s more like it. Today I’d like to discuss using restraint in your writing. A sure-fire indication of an immature, novice writer, is the tendency to overwrite, to use extremes way to often in the descriptions of what is happening as the plot moves along. Think of it as – let’s use parenting as an analogy. You, the writer, are the parent, and your readers are the children.

If you are a parent who is quick to high emotion, easily excited, uses loud, harsh language and outrageous threats all the time to control your kids, well what happens, eventually, to your children? They become immune to the loud decibel levels, the constant haranguing, and all that … to the point where you have to hit them over the head with a frying pan to get them to sit up and pay attention.

If, on the other hand, you parent with controlled emotions, use an even, soft voice the vast majority of the time, and only threat when the real intent is there and follow through on your word, well … those children, when you raise your voice just a little, will sit up with perked ears and exclaim, “Wow! Better pay attention … Mom almost never uses that tone of voice.”

Get my drift? Here’s and example of unrestrained writing …


John ran out the door as fast as he possibly could. Never in his entire life had he seen anything so horrible, so terrifying. His blood pounded in his ears like it had never, ever, done so before as he raced with all his might down the street, demanding his legs to carry him away from the hideous scene as fast as they could.


Trust me, I’ve edited books for freshman authors who shout out their prose just like that. So stop chuckling at my blatant overwriting over-exampling. (wink) And imagine an entire book where everyone and everything happening is the mostest, greatest, fastest, unbelievably this or that ever in the whole world or lifetime of the character. It gets you numbed. There’s no room left to kick it up a notch, no gas left in the tank when you really need to accelerate your story, hmm?

Okay. Here’s the same passage, toned down, but still getting the point across.


John fled out the door. Never had he seen anything so terrifing. His blood pounded in his ears as he raced down the street, commanding his legs to top speed, distancing him from the hideous scene.


Much better, hmm? Okay class, I am again extremely happy with your good behavior – the best I’ve ever known you to behave in my whole life! (wink).

So. Help yourself to a brownie, and … huh?

Oh yes, Ms. Flanders, sorry to keep you waiting, here I come.

Chow class, enjoy your treats, and blog back to class next Tuesday, be on time, too.


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Leave a Comment
  1. L. Diane Wolfe / Mar 16 2010 6:41 am

    There’s certainly a bog difference. Great tip, Marvin.

  2. Jim Hansen / Mar 16 2010 6:43 am

    Big and better difference. Enjoyed class today – my first time. I’ll be back for sure!

  3. Cactus Annie / Mar 16 2010 6:45 am

    Loved the class, I agree overwriting is a putoff – good examples. And, but OH! Those brownies – that’s the REAL kicker for coming to class, lol. 😉

  4. Ron Berry / Mar 16 2010 7:26 am

    Very good point there. I try to keep it simple. Wow! what are these brownies laced with????

  5. Elizabeth Spann Craig / Mar 16 2010 7:28 am

    Great tip, Marvin! Overwriting makes me flinch. 🙂

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  6. Stanley Berber / Mar 16 2010 7:49 am

    I’m with Ron – what’s in these brownies? LOL – good class today, Prof Old Silly – make a good point, as usual. 😉

  7. Michele Emrath / Mar 16 2010 8:06 am

    Good point. I’ll take a brownie or two! There are published writers that could take this tip…


  8. Helen Ginger / Mar 16 2010 8:10 am

    Seriously, Marvin, do you think I’d eat your brownies? I’ve heard about you latent hippies.

    Good example, though.

    Straight From Hel

    • theoldsilly / Mar 16 2010 11:40 am

      Now Helen, you don’t REALLY think I would drug my class now, do you? 😉

      lol, glad you liked the example. 🙂

  9. Alex J. Cavanaugh / Mar 16 2010 8:11 am

    Yes, the first one was a bit much!

  10. Mason Canyon / Mar 16 2010 8:44 am

    Great class and helpful example. Watching my weigh, so I’ll skip the brownies but they look yummy.

    • theoldsilly / Mar 16 2010 11:42 am

      “Go on,” said the Tempter, “Have just one …. Bwahahahaaaaaa!!”

  11. yvonne lewis / Mar 16 2010 8:46 am

    Great tip Marvin though I thought we all deserved tea and crumpets, ah well perhaps next week?


    • theoldsilly / Mar 16 2010 11:43 am

      Well if class were in England, then yes of course, Yvonne, but these young American students – they’re not big tea and crumpets fans like some of us more worldly, mature, and civilized folks, hmm? 😉

  12. Karen Walker / Mar 16 2010 9:16 am

    Sometimes I hate this virtual world – I want a brownie. Bummer!

  13. quirkyloon / Mar 16 2010 9:24 am

    I have never ever done this “… like it had never, ever, done so before…”


  14. ReformingGeek / Mar 16 2010 9:47 am


    Oh, wait. There was a lesson in the post. I think.

    Munch. Munch. Swallow. Burp.

    Those are good brownies, Marvin.

    **reaches for another brownie**

    Oh yeah, restraint.


    • theoldsilly / Mar 16 2010 11:45 am

      Ms. Flanders? Honey? Do you have any more brownies for the rest of the class? Yeah, it’s Reffie again – she’s eating up the whole darn platter before anyone else can have some … sigh …

  15. Arlee Bird / Mar 16 2010 11:33 am

    I see the difference, yes, and now to make sure I don’t commit the same writing sin — well not unless that’s what I’m trying to do.

    • theoldsilly / Mar 16 2010 11:46 am

      Arlee, that’s a good point. Rules are made to be broken on occasion, but only when you KNOW the rule and break in intentionally – for a particular style or emphasis, hmm?

  16. AmyLK / Mar 16 2010 3:23 pm

    Good class! thanks for sharing the brownies. They are GOOD!

  17. Thelma Banks / Mar 16 2010 4:43 pm

    Good lesson by example, Prof Old Silly – the difference is easy to see and the second one much more – as you say, “restrained” – lol

    And what’s in these brownies again? Chocolate doesn’t usually make the room start spinning … 😉

  18. tashabud / Mar 16 2010 8:32 pm

    I’m one of those novice writers who writes that way, Prof. Silly. So I try to be extra careful when I’m writing seriously. Thanks again for this tutorial. It’s definitely helpful to me.


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