More on Keeping It Simple

keep-it-simple-1I thought I would continue with the blog I wrote on Tuesday, Keep It Simple. You don’t want your reader to have to stop and think about what you are trying to say. You don’t want to slow them down or break up the pace.

You want your reader to continue through your novel without thinking about the fact  they are reading a book. You want them to become part of your story, walking through the scenes with your cast of characters.

If they have to stop and reread a section for clarification, you’re in trouble. I recommend that you read your prose aloud before making it public. If you stop or hesitate on any sentence, go back, something isn’t right.

Additional things we do to over complicate our writing. And I did say we. I’m guilty too 🙂

Double negatives

He was not certain that he would not make a mess of it.

My head just exploded. What did that sentence just say. You’re going to have to slow down and reread that sentence a couple of times. A better way to write it-

He worried he might make a mess of it.

Over explaining/illustrating

You did a lot of research to make your story sound authentic. That’s great, and the right thing to do, but your reader doesn’t want or need to know all of the information you collected. They aren’t interested in the intricacies of a process, give them an overview. Unless there is an important reason they need to know an intricate detail, keep it out.

Adding unnecessary descriptors in titles

He became the leader of the Commonwealth of Australia in 2012.

He became the leader of Australia in 2012.

She was a reporter in the United Stated of America during the Clinton administration.

She was a reporter in America during the Clinton administration.

If your reader already knows the setting is the USA-

She was a reporter during the Clinton administration.

Careless repetition

It makes you look clumsy, like you haven’t thought things through. You’re unorganized. Why are you telling me something you told me in chapters 3,4 and 6? I know already! Give me a break! Don’t force me to relive a situation over and over again. I don’t like it.

With this being said, there are times when repetition is appropriate, but not usually in novels. Repetition can add clarity, emphasis, and eloquence- when used this way, I wouldn’t consider it careless.

A perfect example, would be the ‘I have a dream’ speech by Martin Luther King Jr.  Check it out.

Hope this gave you something to think about and didn’t add to the confusion 🙂

-Jan R







More on Keeping It Simple

5 thoughts on “More on Keeping It Simple

  1. “You don’t want your reader to have to stop and think about what you are trying to say.” In one of my favorite novels, there was a line in the first chapter about “the old moon holding the new moon in her arms.” The first time I read it, I had no idea what it was supposed to mean; I thought the story’s setting had two moons! (It’s a SF/F novel, so two moons didn’t seem implausible.) As it turned out, that was just a poetic way of saying the moon (Earth’s moon) was a crescent. I probably misinterpreted it the first time BECAUSE I was expecting something strange, but nevertheless… My point is that the author cannot assume all readers are alike and will bring the same assumptions when the read a story. Your mileage may vary (and hope you don’t run out of gas right when the hellhounds attack 🙂 ).

    “If you stop or hesitate on any sentence, go back, something isn’t right.” THAT assumes all writers are good at reading aloud, or at least that they don’t stumble and hesitate when reading aloud, no matter what they’re reading. Sometimes the problem is with the words/sentences being awkward, and sometimes the problem is with the person reading them. (See point one above.)

    Sometimes, for example, I stumble while reading because I’ve just come across a question that doesn’t have a question mark at the end. Is that the writer’s fault, or mine?

    “They aren’t interested in the intricacies of a process, give them an overview.” Another YMMV situation. Some (but by no means all) readers of hard science fiction WANT the intricacies of a process. They NEED it, because it warms their science-enthusiast hearts and makes them feel secure in the knowledge that they can trust this author to get things right. Some (but not all) readers of historical fiction WANT all the details of how something was done back in the Renaissance (or whenever the story is set). This is not me saying, “Describe all the processes!” like that little hyperbole cartoon guy; this is me saying, “Consider your intended audience, and write accordingly.”

    “Repetition can add clarity, emphasis, and eloquence- when used this way, I wouldn’t consider it careless.” Yay! (*does happy dance*) I had a run-in with a fellow editor a while back, in which he insisted that ALL repetition was bad. (“Repetition is bad, m’kay?”) He had no conception of repetition being used for emphasis or whatnot. To him, beginning three sentences in a row with the same phrase was the worst sort of Bad Writing. (*rolls eyes*) So it’s good to see someone else speaking (writing) in defense of this literary technique.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I really hope I didn’t come across as being negative. That’s another YMMV thing: I like sharing knowledge about any topic I’m interested in (and that list is a lot longer than “the experts” say is possible), so when someone tells me, ‘I disagree with part of what you said, and here’s why,’ I take it as conversation, not argument. Sometimes I forget that some people dislike, ‘Maybe, but have you considered THIS…?’

        It’s HARD, though, to write a short blog post that covers all, or even most, eventualities for a topic. There’s no way you could have written, in a few hundred words, about every possible ‘if/then’ option for matching writing to audience. So it makes sense that you’d stick with the most common and generalized: Don’t get verbose and confuse your audience. Don’t let your narration turn into the operator’s manual for the Jacquard loom that the protagonist glimpses as she’s walking past. Don’t mention, EVERY SINGLE TIME this extraterrestrial character appears, that she has four arms — we get the idea! (See? I can’t even paraphrase what someone else writes without embellishing it with additional examples.)

        Liked by 1 person

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