Last time, Midnight Publishing discussed how “head-hopping” is a writing mistake to avoid, whereas Omniscient POV is a writing strategy that several iconic authors have mastered successfully. In this post, our group of professional editors and ghostwriters want to discuss another commonly made “writing mistake” that we frequently come across with our clients’ manuscripts, in the hopes that you can continue to grow your awareness and skills in fiction and book writing. The writing mistake we want to discuss this week is verbosity.
Defined as “the quality of using more words than needed; wordiness,” verbosity is one of the cardinal sins in fiction writing (and most writing, honestly). Not to be confused with stylistic choices or stream-of-consciousness writing (a favorite of William Faulkner to depict particular characters’ inner dialogue), writing with verbosity constitutes using many more words than is necessary to get the point across.
Examples of Verbosity
Oftentimes, Midnight Publishing comes across these examples of verbosity:
Giving a “step-by-step” description of the actions a character makes.
Example: “Brooke lifted the cup to her lips, drinking the lukewarm tea inside. She cringed at the temperature. She set the cup down, wiped her lip, adjusted the napkin on her lap and gazed over at her grandma.”
This could be shortened to: “Brooke lifted the cup to her lips to drink, cringing at the tea’s lukewarm temperature. She set the cup down and gazed at her grandma.”
Describing settings in overly detailed ways.
Every rock and tree of a forest don’t need to be mentioned, nor does every grommet and bit of lace on a dressing gown.
Example: “The vale of the hillside was craggy and covered in many bushes of all colors and sizes, as well as boulders ranging in color from slate gray to dark midnight black to depict the mountainside in an attractive morning light for those who enjoyed natural forestation.”
This could be shortened to: “The craggy hillside was dotted with bushes, as well as boulders ranging in color from slate gray to black. The mountainside was picturesque in the morning light.”
Verbosity can also rear its ugly head when your characters are speaking.
As you write, bear in mind two things: 1) Who is speaking? Age, education, gender, experiences, use of profanity, etc.; and 2) How would they utilize speech to get their point across?
Example: If you have a character who is a cranky teenager, their dialogue would never sound like this: “Mother, I would like to go down to the grocery store to buy desserts that we don’t currently have at home. May I please borrow some money to go to the store?”
It would sound like this: “Mom! I need cash. Why do you always buy the grossest desserts? I’m going to Safeway for something that’s actually edible.”
Half the words, with one thousand percent more characterization.
Wise Words About Verbosity
As always, refer to the wise words of William Strunk and E.B. White in “The Elements of Style”:
“Do not overwrite.
Rich, ornate prose is hard to digest, generally unwholesome, and sometimes nauseating. If the sickly-sweet word, the overblown phrase are your natural form of expression, as is sometimes the case, you will have to compensate for it by a show of vigor, and by writing something as meritorious as the Song of Songs which is Solomon’s…it is always a good idea to reread your writing later and ruthlessly delete the excess.”
Come back as Midnight Publishing continues to explore the “cardinal sins of fiction writing,” so that you can avoid