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 aย 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.ย 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.



Filed under Critical Thinking, Miscellaneous, Uncategorized, Writing

26 responses to “TMI

  1. Did my critique help with this epiphany?

  2. My beta reader pointed this one out to me. In my case it was a whole lot of redundancy. I’ve also been told this is a common first draft mistake. (Hugs)Indigo

  3. Great point, Layinda. It is always easier to see your mistakes after reading someone else’s. I think that’s why writing and critiquing should go hand in hand. We learn so much for the feedback we get, but also from the feedback we give.


  4. Kittie Howard

    I agree with catwoods above. And I enjoyed your post. Thank you!

  5. Well said. It is such an easy trap to fall into. I find that, ironically, I often make this mistake when I think I’m on a roll and pounding out prose at a record pace.

  6. Me, too! Things seem to flow out so effortlessly, and then I read it over. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

  7. Here from KarenG’s bbq post, and glad I stopped by. Following ya on Twitter now too. Nice blawg!

  8. (From KarenG’s)

    excellent advice! Although don’t you hate it when someone asks YOU for directions and you accidentally give them the wrong ones? You don’t realize this, usually, until 2 minutes after they leave. ARGH.

  9. Zoe

    Possibly my greatest weakness as a writer, over complex sentences and needless description. Clarity is not my forte, I really wish it was.

    Visiting from the KarenG’s bbq!

  10. Visiting from KarenG’s BBQ.

    Nice blog. Glad I’m now a follower. I’ll be back to read more.

    It’s true what you say here. Overwriting (too many details that aren’t necessary and don’t move the story forward, etc.) is the major problem to begin with. But then, that’s what the revision process is all about. You get the story down, then you work on “style.”

    • That’s true, writing happens in stages. Even during the editing process, when you weed away one problem, it usually reveals another. Happy is the gardener who can finally sit back and just enjoy the flowers. ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. Shellie

    Hi Laylinda,

    Over from Karen’s BBQ. Like your blog. I’m a fairly new writer, but have learned a lot from reading other writers, new and old alike.

  12. Great post! Just stopping by from KarenG’s bbq blog party. Hope you have a great weekend!

  13. Good point.

    I once came across advice where you should focus on one thing you want the reader to notice/pay attention to and not do the bog down with everything you, the author, picture in the scene. It’s pretty decent advice and fits in line with what you are saying.

  14. I’ve helped out with a writing class for my friend’s class. The teens write such long passages without latching onto a cohesive idea. I fear some of the work I’ve critiqued from aspiring writers in the past have the same problems as the teens’ stories did. Definitely (I don’t care if I’m going to use a cliche–it fits) less is more. Just a seed of an idea can sprout an image to life for your reader. And all you really want to do is suggest your story and let your reader live it.

    Thanks for the wonderful post and I love the title!
    Plus you were right on my blog the answer was 5B. (I’ve had the yuckies for two days now so I’m a little loopy.)

  15. I think that sometimes authors don’t realize the vast amount of common experience readers can draw from to get an image pretty close to what was intended. Thanks for visiting!

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