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August 31, 2010 / theoldsilly

Professor Old Silly’s Tutorial Tuesday – Just Tell the Story, 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 another 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 more of your favourites … those fresh-baked “Delightful Death by Chocolate” brownies for you all after class, courtesy once again of Ms. Flanders … god bless her.

Claaaass? I said QUIET!

Ahem. Now that’s more like it. Today I’d like to again discuss something we have covered before in this course, but needs more expanding on, that being using restraint in your writing. A sure-fire indication of an immature, novice writer, is the tendency to overwrite; to use extremes way too 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 threaten to exact punishment or disciplinary measures  when the real intent is there and then 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 an example of unrestrained writing …


John ran out the door as fast as he possibly could. Never in his whole entire life had he ever seen anything so horrible, so awful and 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 possibly 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? Did we miss any story? No. Do I have room left to up the intensity later? Yes.

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

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

What’s that?

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.

My, my, Ms. Flanders, you certainly look lovely today. Hm? What am I doing later this evening? Well, I was supposed to grade papers, but … why–what did you have in mind?


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Leave a Comment
  1. AK / Aug 31 2010 5:21 am

    This is what I have been searching for a long time. Thanks bro.. AM sure many upcoming writers will find this useful..

    BTW Ms. Flanders is down on flu and she won’t be able to make it tonight.. lol!

    • theoldsilly / Aug 31 2010 10:37 am

      Oh no! Poor Ms. Flanders … I’ll have to take her over some nice herbal tea!

  2. tashabud / Aug 31 2010 5:43 am

    The second version definitely sounds much better, Prof. Old Silly. I hope that I will have weeded out much of the “no,nos” in my novel by the time it gets to your desk for editing. LOL.


    • theoldsilly / Aug 31 2010 7:54 am

      Can’t wait to read your ms, Tasha – judging by your posts I’m sure it will be a good one. 🙂

  3. Mason Canyon / Aug 31 2010 7:12 am

    Very helpful post even for those of us who aren’t authors.

    Thoughts in Progress

  4. Elizabeth Spann Craig / Aug 31 2010 7:49 am

    Love it! Nice reminder to always stick to telling the story and pare down. Am tweeting…

    • theoldsilly / Aug 31 2010 7:53 am

      Thanks, Liz – and thanks for the tweet, tweetie! 🙂

  5. Ron Berry / Aug 31 2010 8:14 am

    Good post. Help!! Hold me back there ol boss o mine, I’m on a verbose track today. Get out the chains. pull the plugs, do what ya gotta do, just don’t let me start in typing a fore I gets so carried away I write an unreadable novel here.

    • theoldsilly / Aug 31 2010 10:38 am

      LOL, just use some restraint, dude … 😉

  6. Cactus Annie / Aug 31 2010 10:32 am

    Great class, Old Silly! But – gotta be honest – I’m a little jealous of Ms. Flanders. 😉

    Is it just cuz she bakes so good? Teeheehee

    • theoldsilly / Aug 31 2010 10:39 am

      Aww, don’t be jealous, Cactus … erm, what can YOU cook? 😉 What’s that old saying – “the way to a man’s heart …” lol

  7. Helen Ginger / Aug 31 2010 11:13 am

    In most cases, less is best. More is overkill.

    Thanks for the tutorial.


  8. Stephen Tremp / Aug 31 2010 12:07 pm

    Ms. Flanders is looking might tasty. Much better than the brownies. Okay, I’ll go stand in the corner now.

    Stephen Tremp

  9. Alex J. Cavanaugh / Aug 31 2010 3:21 pm

    I felt exhausted just reading the piece.

  10. Kissie / Sep 3 2010 9:33 am

    So, less is more?

  11. Judy Harper / Sep 4 2010 7:08 pm

    I’ve just started following you and I appreciate the fact that you say so much with so few words. I’m getting there as an author, yet it seems I have a long way to go. I appreciate you and Elizabeth Spann Craig’s contribution to beginning writers. Thanks!

    • theoldsilly / Sep 5 2010 11:12 am

      Judy, thanks for the follow and the kinds words. Elizabeth is a FINE writing coach, I agree, too!


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