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April 12, 2011 / theoldsilly

Professor Old Silly’s Tutorial Tuesday – Don’t Keep Crying ‘Wolf’, Boys and Girls!

Welcome back to Bloggyversity, English Comp Class 10001.3b, “Writing With Power in Fiction”. Take your seats, please class, I need your full attention, and I mean right now. I have a very important tea and crumpets date with Ms. Flanders in just ten minutes, so stop with the 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, straighten your drawers, plop your butts in your seats and be quiet. I’m in no mood for your typical silliness. Plus if you’re good I have some fresh baked cookies for you all after class, courtesy of Ms. Flanders.

That’s much better. Ahem. Today I’d like to discuss the issue of overwriting.

Overwriting is often a sign of insecurity in an author. Particularly with novice authors, you want to make sure you are getting your very important points across, be certain your characters’ emotions are being felt fully, and your imagery is vivid and impressive. So you tend to overwrite. Problem is, the prose gets too lengthy, redundant, and laden with excess verbiage that lessens the impact of your story. The old saying goes, “Less is more,” and it applies to us as writers as well, hmm?

As is my usual style and want, I shall tutor by example. Here is a short passage in which I am overwriting to impress. And for the sake of this exercise, assume with me that this is an excerpt taken from the opening chapters of a book. Where a seasoned pro would/should be crafting a methodical, calculated slow build of tension.

~~~~~

John was so mad. He was enraged. He was livid, with his forehead veins bulging deep, dark red and his eyes so menacingly evil looking he could have been mistaken for the Devil. He had to be very, very careful, though. One wrong move, just the tiniest slip, the least bit of err in his next move could very well prove to be his demise. He could be destroyed, ruined, everything lost if he miscalculated even just a little. He edged closer to the sleeping giant with very slow, measured, extremely soft steps. He got almost close enough to be able to reach for the sword, and stopped in a heart-stopping, horrifying flash of heightened terror as the giant stirred and let out a long, slow, deep, guttural groan. Then it started snoring again.

John was madder than hell. He would have his long awaited for and much deserved revenge. Sweet, sweet, revenge, the sweetest ever, the kind that makes chancing the sacrificing of your own life so very worth it. He took another slow, measured, very soft step closer, and then with his heart beating in his chest like it would burst out and blow up at any second, made his swift move.

~~~~~

Impressed? Me either. I’m like, okay, whatever … John’s mad, he’s gotta get even with this evil giant, he’s scared but doing the brave thing. I get that. You don’t need to pound it into my head with such blatant, overly glorified writing. Sort of brings to mind the classic Aesop’s Fable, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, hmm? I mean, if everything is the greatest, worstest, highest and lowest all the time, then where is there any room to ramp up the excitement in a story? You’ve shot all your ‘impress me’ bullets. Chamber’s empty, pal.

Here’s the same passage with all the fat cut out, streamlined into a more Spartan and direct style, without losing any story.

~~~~~

John was livid. His forehead veins were bulging and his eyes menacing. He had to be careful. One wrong move, the tiniest slip, could get him killed. He edged closer to the sleeping giant with slow, measured steps. Almost close enough to reach for the sword, he stopped in terror as the giant stirred and let out a long, guttural groan, then started snoring again.

He would have his long awaited, sweet revenge. Revenge worth risking your life over. He took another step. With his heart pounding, he made his move.

~~~~~

Isn’t that much better, a more powerful read? And what did we miss, anything? No. The whole story is there, delivered with fewer words, eliminating repitition, excess adverbs and adjectives, cutting the fat out and getting down to the basic nouns and verbs needed to convey the storyline. And I have left plenty of gas in the tank to ramp it up as the story increases in intensity.

Okay, class dismissed, as usual leave your comments on my desk, and I must say . Wow! You’re all still here … Gold stars for everyone, and please help yourself to these still warm, fresh from the oven “Layers of Love Chocolate Brownies” Ms. Flanders was kind enough to bake for you all.

Ooops, my phone. “Yes, yes, Ms. Flanders, I’m coming, be right with you – and I just have to tell you how wonderful my class behaved today. I think I’ll start making it a habit of serving your baked goods at the end.”

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21 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Hilary / Apr 12 2011 6:41 am

    Hi Marvin .. much more precise in its intention .. not lost in long paragraphs – and the depth of feeling is really there .. no need for extra words. Too true .. good class .. nearly lunchtime! Cheers to Mrs Flanders for her brownies – always look delicious .. fortunately a screen away .. enjoy the week .. Hilary

    • theoldsilly / Apr 12 2011 8:04 am

      Thanks, Hilary – and you have an enjoyable week over there in Jolly Old England, too! 🙂

  2. Cactus Annie / Apr 12 2011 7:58 am

    That was a good class, Old Silly – the 2nd example is far more impressive with far less words. Big difference. And the brownies – I’m googling that recipe right now! 🙂

    • theoldsilly / Apr 12 2011 8:49 am

      Yes, that recipe is SINFULLY inviting, is it not?!

  3. Barbra Kelser / Apr 12 2011 8:03 am

    Many layers of love to you, Old Silly, and chocolate kisses, too! Tehee, great class, as usual. I’m not even a writer, but I catch this class every Tuesday – it’s interesting to see how good writers make their books so good. Kind of like, even if you can’t cook very good, you can tell good tasting food from bad, eh?

    • theoldsilly / Apr 12 2011 8:50 am

      Thanks, Barb, and good analogy, there, too. 🙂

  4. Elizabeth Craig / Apr 12 2011 8:33 am

    More good reminders here, Marvin! I can’t stand it when writers ramble.

  5. Ron Berry / Apr 12 2011 10:16 am

    Fortunately I never, ever, well, maybe once but almost never go to any excess with words. I mean why would I waste all the words of a story when I could very easily and with no difficulty, I mean it would be the same as picking up a fork to make mention of the fact that what you said or rather what the example tried to portray did indeed make some sense once it was rewritten or at least shortened by so many fewer words. But never ever, except that once, twice or more times did I ever even come close to saying things with an over abundance of words except to say this was a great example you gave us this time, as always.

  6. Stanley Berber / Apr 12 2011 10:45 am

    Good subject and lesson today, Prof. Had to chuckle at Ron’s comment, teehee!

    • theoldsilly / Apr 12 2011 6:41 pm

      Yes, that was a rather apt and snide, clever comment, teehee!

  7. Lavern D Welch / Apr 12 2011 2:37 pm

    The lesson I needed the last few days! I’ll be back for a writing awaits me! Thanks a million!

  8. Maggie / Apr 12 2011 3:03 pm

    Thanks, Old Silly, a wonderful demontration on the economy of word. Brilliant. Looking foreward to next week’s lesson.
    Blessings
    Mags

    • theoldsilly / Apr 12 2011 6:42 pm

      Thanks, Mags, and please stop in any old day! 🙂

  9. Connie Arnold / Apr 12 2011 7:15 pm

    Great lesson, Professor! Thanks for sharing (the class and the brownies).

  10. Alex J. Cavanaugh / Apr 12 2011 7:49 pm

    I am learning to cut out the extra!!!

    • theoldsilly / Apr 13 2011 11:41 am

      Very short, succint comment. Good. But one exlclamation point is enough, two or more is excessive! 😉

  11. Arlee Bird / Apr 13 2011 9:33 pm

    Guity! Maybe not as guilty as that example–that was ridiculous, but effective in illustrating your point. I often do tend to say things in more than one way and I will have to watch that more carefully.
    Thanks for the lesson.

    Lee
    Tossing It Out

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