Thursday, March 3, 2011

O is for Overwriting.

This week, multi-published romance and romantic suspense author, Carol McPhee, shares her thoughts with us on Overwriting.


Wordiness weakens the force of expression. Conciseness alone doesn’t achieve effective writing, but it is hard for a writer to write forcefully if two or three words are used to convey the idea one word could express.

Examples: John is going to plan to write you soon.
                John will write to you soon.

Students who disobey the rules will be separated from the university.
Students who disobey the rules will be expelled.

When I first started submitting chapters to a critique group I joined years ago, several of the critiquers harped on my verbosity. My question to them was: were not all words equal and shared the right to be used? Apparently not. In today’s fast-paced world, readers want to get to the crux of the story and not be led into a maze of unnecessary words. Overly long sentences put the reader at a loss as to the writer’s point before the end is reached. Wordy writing characterized by excessive detail, needless repetition, and convoluted sentence structures can derail the most passionate of readers. It makes the writing uninteresting and tedious.

To avoid wordiness in your writing:

Eliminate words which are redundant or superfluous: Redundancies, such as "cooperate together," "close proximity," "red in color," "small in size" or "end result," make thinking sloppy and tax the reader’s patience. In effective writing, every word serves a purpose. Take out empty words or phrases that do not affect the sentence’s meaning.

For example:
(along the lines of) - replace with - like
(as a matter of fact)      in fact
(at all times)       always
(because of the fact that)     because
(by means of)       by

Eliminate empty words and phrases: To avoid wordiness, combine two or more sentences to form one compact sentence.

Wordy: The headlights were bashed in and there was some superficial damage to the body. Otherwise, the mini-van seemed to be in excellent condition.
Concise: Aside from bashed-in headlights and superficial damage to the body, the mini-van seemed to be in excellent condition.

Reduce clauses to phrases and phrases to single words:
Wordy: The pine forest, which was glazed with shimmering ice, offered breathtaking silence.
Concise: The pine forest, glazed with shimmering ice, offered breathtaking silence.
Wordy: For her birthday, Shirley received a gown made of taffeta.
Concise: For her birthday, Shirley received a taffeta gown.

Use strong verbs as opposed to weasel verbs that suck the power from your sentences:
Weak verbs such as "is, has, took, gave and make," lengthen sentences needlessly. Verbs such as "kindle, carve, and race" invigorate sentences quickly and efficiently.
Wordy: The carpenters made slow advancement, and building costs were making a steady climb.
Concise: The carpenters advanced slowly and building costs climbed.
Wordy: The janitor’s duty is to lock up the school and check to see whether all windows are closed.
Concise: The janitor locks up the school and checks that the windows are closed.

Use the active voice to strengthen your sentences
The active voice stresses the actor in a sentence, whereas the passive voice stresses the receiver. Since the passive voice results in unnecessary clutter without making writing more direct, and forceful, use the active voice.
Wordy: The house was painted by the students.
Concise: The students painted the house.
Wordy: The apartment buildings were leveled by the hurricane.
Concise: The hurricane leveled the apartment buildings.

Eliminate expletive constructions: An expletive construction is a sentence that begins with "there" or "it" and postpones the sentence’s subject. Even though expletive constructions are effective in showing a change in direction, they frequently produce wordiness.
Wordy: There are three books lying open on the table.
Concise: Three books lay open on the table.

I hope I have given you insight into checking your own writing to improve its readability.

Available now from Champagne Books
Bio:    Carol lives in Nova Scotia, Canada, with her hero of almost fifty years. Writing was never on her radar screen until she faced a serious health issue and needed distraction. She began reading romance novels, discovering the tales seemed to feed the same threads-boy meets girl, conflict breaks them apart but problem resolution leads to a happy ending. She longed for more intensity on the characters’ journey. Thus None So Blind germinated in her mind. Her belief that this story would be her only writing venture proved faulty when Undercover Trouble ripped onto her keyboard, followed by many other romance stories.

Visit Carol on the web at:


Judi said...

Excellent overview of overused overwriting for all of us. We all love it and do it from time to time. See? Enamored with words is a pitfall of mine, too. Thanks for giving concise examples. Judi

Rosemary Gemmell said...

A very good post to be reminded of time and again. And you're right, people don't want to read long, wordy sentences these days (I'm still learning that!).

Allison said...

Great post, and let me add one more. Mark Twain said - "Never use a 25 cent word when a nickle one will do". I'd love to be able to write like Samuel Clemens.

I don't like reading with a dictionary at my side.

Kelly McClymer said...

Great! I tell this students all the time. However, in preparing my out of print backlist for re-release to Kindle, I blush to see how many of my own no-nos I committed back in my early years. Needless to say, I am making liberal use of my red pen on my own early prose.

Fiona McGier said...

Unfortunately I use long words in everyday conversation, so I often forget that to others they might be misunderstood as "big words".
That being said, I truly appreciate a good editor. I have been gradually learning how to reduce the word-clutter, and get to the point...or better yet, show what happens, instead of telling about it.
Great post...thanks.

Angelica Hart and Zi said...

Great article, and we adore the examples. How many times have we gone back to a first draft and thought...oops!

Carol McPhee said...

Thanks ladies. Although I try hard to exclude useless adjectives, I don't know why they went by the wayside. Some are so perfect for the situation I have to toss them in and hope the readers will enjoy the extra description as much as I enjoy writing them. lol. Carol

Linda Rettstatt said...

I want to thank Carol for being with us this week. I'm fortunate to benefit from Carol's expertise through our online critique group. (Which means she picks up on my overwriting--and other foibles--on a regular basis :)

Thanks, Carol.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful examples, Carol. Overwriting coupled with my Words to chop list will help new writers to condense their wordy manuscripts into a realistic, publishable length.

Angela Verdenius said...

wow, some really good points there, Carol. Definitely going to be seeing my own manuscripts in a different light now!