Saturday, June 22, 2013

Writing Tips - Overwriting

Stephen King has lots of good advice for writers in his book "On Writing." The one that struck me the most is to write your book, then cut 10%.

I have the opposite problem. I need to add 10% because I tend to write tersely. That's my 35 years of tech writing kicking in. Say whatever you have to say in the fewest words possible.

In reading many of my fellow authors work, I tend to think Mr. King's advice is not followed often or well. Here, in my opinion, are the areas in which writers should just learn to shut up.

Environmental Description: Let the reader use their imagination a bit. You don't need to mention everything the protagonist is seeing everywhere they go. If your hero is spending two minutes in a village asking questions, then we really don't need to know everything about the village from its inception to the current time.

Is the description furthering the storyline? If there's a building with many columns and open windows, you had better have a darned good reason for mentioning those details. If the hero isn't scaling the columns or climbing into or jumping out of the windows, why would we care? Less is more.

Dining: The hero does have to eat on occasion, but he or she doesn't have to stop for three meals and an afternoon snack every day. If the villain is poisoning food, then the dining experience might be important. Otherwise, a simple statement that the hero (or villain) took a moment to snack is fine. We don't need the details. *See "Bathing, Sleeping, Eliminating Below.*

Clothing: Aside from weaponry or armor, we really don't care. The exception to this rule is if the character's attire plays into the plot. High heels on a female sleuth are only important if she can't run down the creepy guy because stilletoes are impractical.

Secondary Characters: If the hero stops to inquire if the villager has noticed any unseemly activities recently, we really don't care what said peon is wearing, the status of his facial hair, or the curviness of the barmaid's figure. This is excess information. Leave it out.

Sleeping, Bathing, Eliminating: You can mention these activities only to allay the readers' fears the character doesn't perform any of these functions.

Here's a picture since all posts look better with some type of graphic.