Monday, January 5, 2009

Overwriters Anonymous

By Raelene Gorlinsky

Ah, the eager and enthusiastic author who wants to be sure her prose is colorful, descriptive, lively, imaginative, descriptive, shows rather than tells—and did I say descriptive? She’s never met an adjective or adverb she didn’t love, and couldn’t use a hundred times in her novel. She spurns the simple “he said”; all her dialogue tags are of the “he jeered overly sarcastically under his breath” style. Her heroine doesn’t have blue eyes, she has eyes of sparkling cerulean blue, ocean blue, the blue of a summer sky, laser blue, or sapphire blue. And the author reminds you of the color every damn time she mentions the woman’s eyes! She feels that readers will get her meaning better if she repeats meanings via synonyms—“the pinnacle and peak of his desire”, “the initial, first meeting”, “scary and frightening monster”.

You can’t find the story under the verbiage. You need to take a weed-whacker to the words to find a plot. Writing like this would drive a reader crazy. Luckily for readers, these submissions drive an editor crazy, and therefore never get out in the world to torment readers. (The editors union is lobbying for mental health coverage of job-induced insanity.)

Might you or one of your critique partners or writer friends be an Overwriter? The Editorial Ass blog discusses this addiction.
(And my article title is a direct copy from her—in admiration.)

Alas, there is no 12-step program, but we’re willing to take suggestions on how to spot this problem in your own writing, and on how to break the addiction to excessive adjectiving and adverbing (and verbing of nouns).


Anonymous said...

I think we historical writers are the biggest abusers, Raelene. Overwriting is a constant temptation with Regency authors like myself. Thanks goodness Cerridwen Press has such fantastic editors!

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

Overwriting is usually a symptom of being in love with words, and there's nothing wrong with that, especially if you write poetry. But fiction writing is story-telling and it's important to remember that the best story-tellers use only as many words as they need and no more. Would the story of the fox and the grapes in Aesop's Fables, to take one example, be improved by an intricate description of the texture of fox's fur and the curl of the leaves on the grapevine? Of course not, because those things aren't what the story is about.

Writing flash fiction is how I practice paring down to what's essential. When you're 200 words over max and still haven't reached your conclusion, it becomes very clear what matters and what doesn't.

lynneconnolly said...

I have done so many critiques on books like this, and yes, it was one of my big mistakes when I started.
It tends to go with the writer who has the one book that she wants to perfect before she even thinks about another one, and is convinced that this book is the one.
There's one subber in particular I remember, who never uses a little word when a big one will do, and you're exhausted by the end of the first chapter. And to my knowledge, has never finished a manuscript. Not seen her for a while.

Angelia Sparrow said...

I collaborated with a writer like that. He spent half a page describing a brick wall. An ordinary brick wall, without trap doors or any feature of interest.

He claimed I took machetes to his verbiage. I claimed there was really a story in there but he was burying it in words. I gave up on him.

Unknown said...

I am guilty of this and split infinitives...hanging head in shame...