Is Your Prose Too Beautiful?

untitledOver the past few months, I’ve been focusing on word use. Are the words necessary or just taking up space in my work? My blogs usually relate to what I’m working on at the time they are being written. I like to think if I’m having questions about an aspect of writing, you are too.  The following blog is an older one I wrote a few years ago, but it is still relevant, and I figure a refresher is good for myself and you.

I ran into this question while doing some research this past week, and it made me stop and think. Is my prose to beautiful? In my case, I would say no. I never grasped that concept. I have to admit I’ve tried.

The most famous rule in the bible of writing hints, The Elements of Style, is “Omit Needless Words.” This should be the hallmark of every writer.

Some authors believe good language should be showy. However, using unnecessary words in an effort to be literary or write more beautifully, is a common error first-time authors make.

George Simenon, a Belgian author, once pointed to a sentence and said: “That’s a beautiful sentence, cut it.”

He explained: “When you come across such a gorgeous sentence in a paragraph, it stands out and disrupts the even tone of your narrative. It’s as if you’ve paved a road and had a rose bush spurt up in the center. It’s beautiful, but it doesn’t belong there and it impedes the flow of the narrative.”

This overuse of description can also bog down a narrative and make it more difficult for a reader to quickly grasp the meaning.

Jerry Jenkins calls it written-ese. It’s a special language we use when we forget to Just Say It.

He provided the following example from a beginner’s work he was editing. I know I’ve used this example in several blog posts, but it is such a good one.

“The fire drop from the pommel of Tambre’s sword shot past the shimmering silver mist of her involuntary dispersal.”

Now that was a pretty sentence, but you can’t tell me it didn’t slow you down and make you think about what the author was actually trying to say. If you are like me, you had to read it several times. That’s written-ese.

I’m not saying you can’t use description. Description is good and helps your reader visualize characters, settings and much more. But it should be used sparingly. It should add to and enhance your sentence, not distract and overtake it.

Trying to impress others with your words is not the way to go. Be natural, be yourself, and it would probably help if you closed the thesaurus as well 🙂

Something to think about 🙂

-Jan R

Is Your Prose Too Beautiful?

Are You Overwriting?

images open bookDuring the editing process, take a closer look at the wording of your sentences. Are all of those words really necessary, or are they just adding fluff to increase your word count? This is what we refer to as overwriting. Overwriting can result from several fundamental errors:

  • Too many adjectives and adverbs.  i.e. When the yellow, round orb of the sun stealthily and smoothly creeps into the azure blue early morning sky- one may wonder why the sun didn’t simply rise.  If you feel the need to modify every verb with an adverb, or every noun with an adjective, chances are, you’re not picking the right words-Max Keele.
  • Using big words when simple ones will do. i.e. Ascending the stairs instead of walking up the stairs. Seeking alternatives for “said”is another common error, that leads characters to “expostulate” or “riposte”.
  • Too much detail or backstory. Describing the color and length of your protagonist’s hair is fine but it had better be relevant to the storyline, otherwise, it’s fluff you can cut out. Most of us deplore long exposition “dumps” that stop the action dead in its tracks. I love reading inspirational romance novels, but I can’t count how many paragraphs I have skipped getting from the mundane to what really matters.

Remember every word has to do a job. If it’s just taking up space, then it has to go.

Something to think about.

-Jan R

Are You Overwriting?

Don’t Let Words Get In The Way

text-sign-showing-keep-it-simple-motivational-call-conceptual-photo-simplify-things-easy-clear-concise-ideas-written-yellow-sticky-note-p.jpgWrite with your reader in mind. You want to keep things simple: no over the top flowery sentences that belong in poetry not in a novel, no run on sentences that are a paragraph long, or clumsy writing that is hard to understand. When you write this way, you are making your reader aware.

Aware of what you might ask? Your writing. You don’t want your reader cognizant of the fact that they are reading a book. You want them focused on the story to the point that they are walking beside the characters and experiencing their every move.

You want them to continue reading until the end accepting every coincidence and slightly questionable storyline written. We often refer to this as the suspension of disbelief. If the reader is focused on the story and not the writing, they will accept most of what you throw at them without stopping to question its plausibility.

 Remember: Clumsy writing that’s hard to understand makes readers aware. Don’t let the words get in the way of a great story.

-Jan R

Don’t Let Words Get In The Way

Keep It Simple

fewer-wordsWhenever you write, you should aim for maximum simplicity. You want tight writing with no redundancies, flowery language, or longer than necessary words. Shun pretentious writing. It exposes your inexperience.

I borrowed the following example from a class I am taking through Udemy. It does a great job of showing what I am trying to explain. If you haven’t checked Udemy out, I would highly recommend their classes. They are informative, interesting, and very easy to follow, and are a fraction of the cost of most sites I’ve visited. Now back to my blog and the example 🙂

The specific point I am trying to make is that the colors red and gray go well together.

The point I am trying to make is that the colors red and gray go well together.

My point is that the colors red and gray go well together.

The colors red and gray go well together.

Red and gray go well together.

Red and gray match.

I’m sure if you take each of these sentences one at a time, you can follow the process of deletion. The first sentence is dull and tiresome, while the last one is a strong vivid statement.

Practice this technique by looking at your own sentences. Do you have any unnecessary fat? What words can you cut?

Redundancies? These are twin words written side by side. They mean the same thing and one of them needs to go.

  • sum-total
  • unexpected-surprise
  • joint-collaboration
  • future-plans
  • new-record (as in sports)

Implied words? These are also unnecessary because they are implied.

  • nodded-her head (what else would she nod?)
  • shrugged-his shoulders (what else would he shrug?)
  • ran-speedily (how else would you run?)
  • yelled-loudly (how else would you yell?)

Long words versus short words

  • utilize – use
  • deployed – sent
  • confiscated – took/seized

Remember, short words quicken the pace, they don’t weigh the sentence down, and are easier for your reader to process.

I would caution that there are times when those long flowery words are the best choice. Before you start cutting, make sure you haven’t compromised clarity or elegance. You don’t want a string of choppy sentences.

Hope this helped 🙂

-Jan R

Keep It Simple