I had to stop while driving the other day to ask a stranger for directions, and quickly regretted it. The man was willing to help, but after telling me how to get where I was going, he added, “otherwise, you could take a left at the Walmart, go down over the bridge and and then take a right after about two miles. Then you take a quick left over the tracks and it’s just past the frontage road. There are fewer traffic lights that way. The bridge is normally out, but lately there hasn’t been any rain, and it’s open.” (Okay, this is not exactly what he said, but you get the gist of it.)
I thanked him with glazed eyes, trying to keep his original instructions straight in my brain. Amazingly, I got where I was going, no thanks to his confusing directions.
This experience put me in mind of a large number of writing samples that I’ve seen posted online. The story is there, and sometimes it’s not bad, but it is buried in details and extraneous words that require the reader to work to figure out what the author is trying to say.
I made that mistake, when writing the first draft of Jim and Jack. I wanted the reader to see things the same way I did, in order to provide a better understanding of the characters and the story. When I read it over the first time through, I had a lot of trimming to do.
The best way to recognize this “overwriting” is to read the work of authors who are not yet published. When encountered, the issue is so obvious that it is much easier to identify in one’s own work.
Each person has his/her own style, but clarity is something that all writers should strive for. Nothing is worse than having to re-read a passage because it is too convoluted to “get” the first time through. If an agent has to do much of that, the manuscript is going to get rejected.