TIP #17: How NOT to Overwrite.
Doreen tapped her tapered ruby-red fingernails on the glossy end table as the woman in blue paced back and forth in front of her.
This is an example of overwriting. The sentence is overcrowded with descriptors. The extra words bog down the sentence and slow the reader, make the reader stumble along.
Why do we overwrite: We overwrite because we think the reader needs the extra words in order to properly visualize our scene.
Why not simplify: Doreen tapped her fingernails on the table as the woman pace in front of her.
Can you see that image? I say yes. The rest is mostly superfluous and actually works against the reader visualizing the scene.
Let me prove it to you. Consider this sentence.
"James raced up the hill."
As you read those 5 words about James, did you see him racing up the hill? Maybe not specifically and totally, but you have at least a sense of a scene in your head. Yes?
What's interesting is that 100 different readers will visualize John racing up the hill in 100 different ways.
Point: As we write, we must remember that our readers are already seeing a lot more than we are putting on the pages. They are also seeing what's already in their minds based on their previous feelings and experiences with the words. In short, each reader brings their own visualization to our story.
"James raced up the hill and looked out over the meadow."
Oh, now there's a meadow!. Don't you already have some new visualization in your head? Me too. Again, we are seeing more than is on the page. We are seeing with our own experiences. We can't help but see with our experiences.
"James raced up the hill and looked out over the
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Now the meadow is flowering. What color are the flowers? For me they are yellow. What about you? See, you've brought your experiences into the story too.
Point: Our reader is already bringing part of the story in his or her head. We don't have to do that part for them, just like we don't have to describe rain as "wet," or the shadows as "dark." The reader already has that.
Point: Respect your reader. Know that his or her experiences will determine at least part of your story. Let that happen. If we don't, we'll overwrite.
Point: We are actually working with the reader. We are partners with the reader. We and the reader are dancing together. We, the writers, are eliciting images from the readers' own experiences.
So, WE put the words on the page, and the READER brings to the page what is already in his or her head.
How not to overwrite?
By not forgetting that we and our readers make the story together.
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