Are you overwriting the obvious again?
January 23, 2008
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One of the more common mistakes I see in the writing of more experienced amateur writers is the tendency to overwrite. They write more than is needed to get the point across, often inundating the reader with the same information expressed in a few different ways (or in some cases, expressed in the same way). Most of the time, you don’t need to tell the reader something three or four times. The reader is usually capable of picking up information with one or two clues, so there’s no need to overwrite. All this does is slow down the pace of the story and …
Yeah, see what I did there? It’s not that there’s anything particularly wrong with that first paragraph, except that it contains about three too many sentences. Try this one out:
One of the more common mistakes I see in the writing of more experienced amateur writers is the tendency to overwrite. The reader is usually capable of picking up information with one or two clues; anything more is annoying overkill.
Overwriting is not an indication of poor writing skills. It’s an indication of insufficient time spent editing. A friend of mine once said that he’d read that every sentence needs to move the story forward. I thought that was a bit excessive at the time, but it’s not a bad rule to keep in the back of your head. Are you writing what the reader wants and needs to see next? Or, as Frasier Crane said on Cheers, “Oh, now you’re saying that I’m redundant, that I repeat myself, that I say things over and over.”
In fact, overwriting is a good thing in drafts. It’s not bad to have the same sentiment expressed several different ways. Then, while editing, you pick the one that works the best in terms of pacing and language, and get rid of the rest. But don’t be afraid to edit. If you feel you have to mention something several times for emphasis, space it out. Let the feeling build through the story rather than being slammed home all in one paragraph.
It’s not a bad flaw to find, and I guarantee you, everyone does it. Be diligent while editing, and it won’t be an issue.