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Denny O'Callaghan is afraid to open his eyes.

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Author Topic: In defense of wordiness? (craft thread)  (Read 5455 times)  

Offline David Adams

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In defense of wordiness? (craft thread)
« on: April 16, 2013, 12:26:57 PM »
I don't know. I tend to waffle on a bit when I get really into a scene. I like to use a lot of words when I could use a few words, but I kind of like it that way. I think it's good to, occasionally, cut loose and just really describe something.

And, you know, sometimes I go overboard a bit. That's fine. Sometimes I'm kind of like... oh, okay, eww. Yeah, I could do that better.

But far more often I find that cutting away this wordiness reduces the story. I know we're supposed to encourage the imagination, but I think that things like describing a sunset should take up a lot of words; it's beautiful, it has the character's attention, it's got ambers and purples and all manner of things.

Some of the editing suggestions I'm getting back, in some of my recent work, feels like I'm cutting things down to the bone. "The sun set." Yes, it most certainly did, but that's... hideously boring. If the characters are going to enjoy a romantic evening together watching that sunset, I think the reader should be there with them too, right?

I don't know. Maybe there's room for wordiness in books. Is there? Do we have to reduce everything to stage directions? Walk here. Sit. Talk. Sun rise, sun set. Get shot. Bleed. Die. Can't we use some of our words? Is it all just a race for the smallest word count?

Edit: Turns out there's a corrupted file that's not helping things, but it's still an interesting topic.
« Last Edit: April 17, 2013, 05:25:56 AM by David Adams »
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Offline vrabinec

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Re: In defense of wordiness? (craft thread)
« Reply #1 on: April 16, 2013, 12:37:28 PM »
I have the same issues. My WIP was 180K words fleshed out. I've cut the hell out of it and have it down in the 150K range and now I'm condensing two chapters into 1 to make it a little more phrenetic in that stretch, but it's getting dangerously close to being too much. Yeah, if the sun's gonna set, don't just tell me it's setting, give me some colors. Give me the mood.

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Offline JezStrider

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Re: In defense of wordiness? (craft thread)
« Reply #2 on: April 16, 2013, 12:39:05 PM »
I have the problem of not being "wordy" enough.
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Re: In defense of wordiness? (craft thread)
« Reply #3 on: April 16, 2013, 12:44:49 PM »
Quote
I have the problem of not being "wordy" enough.

I think I am the same. My son is into the role-playing forums online and he wants me to add so much more description then feels comfortable for me. I struggle with who is right?
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Offline swolf

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Re: In defense of wordiness? (craft thread)
« Reply #4 on: April 16, 2013, 12:54:56 PM »
I know that when I'm reading and I hit a spot where the author is delving into needless (at least to me) description, I tend to start scanning the paragraph, searching for the point where he/she's done and the story resumes.  So, because I'm like that, I tend to skip over it when I'm writing.

One of the worst ones guilty of this is Dean Kootz.  In his book, The Husband, he's pulling out the purple prose in the middle of a chase scene.

What I enjoy is concise descriptions, that tell the entire scene with the right words.  This excerpt from Stephen King's 11/22/63 rings perfect for me:

Quote
When I finally found what I was looking for, I wasnt surprised that it had been hard to locate. The *ss end of Mercedes Street was unpaved hardpan lined with crumbling houses little better than sharecroppers shacks. It spilled into a huge, mostly empty parking lot where tumbleweeds blew across the crumbling asphalt. Beyond the lot was the back of a cinderblock warehouse. Printed on it in whitewashed letters ten feet tall was PROPERTY OF MONTGOMERY WARD and TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED and POLICE TAKE NOTE.

The air stank of cracked petroleum from the direction of Odessa-Midland, and raw sewage much closer at hand. The sound of rock and roll spilled from open windows. I heard the Dovells, Johnny Burnette, Lee Dorsey, Chubby Checker . . . and that was in the first forty yards or so. Women were hanging clothes on rusty whirligigs. They were all wearing smocks that had probably been purchased at Zayres or Mammoth Mart, and they all appeared to be pregnant. A filthy little boy and an equally filthy little girl stood on a cracked clay driveway and watched me go by. They were holding hands and looked too much alike not to be twins. The boy, naked except for a single sock, was holding a cap pistol. The girl was wearing a saggy diaper below a Mickey Mouse Club tee-shirt. She was clutching a plastic babydoll as filthy as she was. Two bare-chested men were throwing a football back and forth between their respective yards, both of them with cigarettes hanging from the corners of their mouths. Beyond them, a rooster and two bedraggled chickens pecked in the dust near a scrawny dog that was either sleeping or dead.

I pulled up in front of 2703, the place to which Lee would bring his wife and daughter when he could no longer stand Marguerite Oswalds pernicious brand of smotherlove. Two concrete strips led up to a bald patch of oil-stained ground where there would have been a garage in a better part of town. The wasteland of crabgrass that passed for a lawn was littered with cheap plastic toys. A little girl in ragged pink shorts was kicking a soccer ball repeatedly against the side of the house. Each time it hit the wooden siding, she said, Chumbah!

A woman with her hair in large blue rollers and a cigarette plugged in her gob shoved her head out the window and shouted, You keep doin that, Rosette, Im gone come out n beat you snotty! Then she saw me. Wha choo want? If its a bill, I caint hep you. My husband does all that. He got work today.

Love it.

Offline Vaalingrade

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Re: In defense of wordiness? (craft thread)
« Reply #5 on: April 16, 2013, 12:57:57 PM »
I feel that the secret is in choosing what to get wordy about. Set pieces and moments like a sunset at the right moment are great times to break out the loquaciousness. The problem comes when you're describing rugs and drapes that nobody cares about and you do it every time someone goes into a new room.

That's the point where you're not adding production values, you're hindering the flow of the story.

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Offline Bards and Sages (Julie)

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Re: In defense of wordiness? (craft thread)
« Reply #6 on: April 16, 2013, 01:00:19 PM »
Wordiness isn't defined by a specific number of words used. It's defined by using more words than is needed to convey the emotion you want to convey. Wordiness is that point where you stop invoking emotions and start treating the reader like an idiot who is incapable of getting the point.  :o

You may only need 20 words to describe a sunset in practical terms, but need 200 to describe that sunset in emotional terms. Use the 200 words. Wordiness is when it takes you 2000 words to describe a sunset and the reader is sitting there thinking "Alright! I get it! It's pretty! Moving on..."

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Offline JezStrider

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Re: In defense of wordiness? (craft thread)
« Reply #7 on: April 16, 2013, 01:01:17 PM »
I tend to get bored when I read books with excessive descriptions of the mundane or a back history of a character I could care less about. Maybe that's why I avoid it.
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Offline wilsonharp

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Re: In defense of wordiness? (craft thread)
« Reply #8 on: April 16, 2013, 01:05:25 PM »
I think it is like the rule "show, don't tell". For a novice writer (and I am definitely a novice writer), I think it means something different than what you anticipate at first.

Descriptive exposition is not the breaking of the rule "be concise", but is the results of the rule being followed carefully. A example of this was when I went to go see "The Fellowship of the Ring" in the theater. When the first image of Hobbiton came on the screen, one of my friends whispered "How did they take the image from my head and put it onto the screen?" The words that Tolkien used to describe Hobbiton were so precise and clear that everyone had a similar idea of what the Hobbit town should look like. He was able to put the image in his mind onto the page in such a way that readers could easily recreate it in their own minds. That is skill. And while some might say that Tolkien broke Strunk's rule of "Omit needless words", are the words needless if they suit the function?

Describing a sunset, for example, can be done in a perfunctory way. But if the intent of the scene is to show the beauty as the character sees it, then words that describe that beauty are not needless.
     

Offline Vaalingrade

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Re: In defense of wordiness? (craft thread)
« Reply #9 on: April 16, 2013, 01:07:20 PM »
Another thing I've flogged on my blog is repeating descriptions.

Readers are not goldfish, we know that the girl's eyes are green and the guy is blonde. You can stop telling use whenever she blinks or he shakes his head.

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Offline Eric C

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Re: In defense of wordiness? (craft thread)
« Reply #10 on: April 16, 2013, 01:08:30 PM »
Depends on voice how many words to use, but not a one should be wasted.

Offline David J Normoyle

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Re: In defense of wordiness? (craft thread)
« Reply #11 on: April 16, 2013, 01:15:41 PM »
There's two things.

1. Is this the right time and place for those words?
Don't have big descriptions in a chase scene. Don't have too much purple prose in thriller. Don't have too much exposition at the start. etc.

2. Are all the words doing their job?
Can a simpler sentence replace a longer one and give the same description, feeling and tone? Can a word replace a phrase? Are there any sentences that are repeating something already said?


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Offline dkgould

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Re: In defense of wordiness? (craft thread)
« Reply #12 on: April 16, 2013, 01:16:36 PM »
Two of my favorite authors are Lucy Maud Montgomery who wrote Anne of Green Gables and (if you were looking for something more . . . "robust") Richard Blackmore who wrote Lorna Doone.  Taken out of context their descriptions would be the paurplest of purple.  But the thing is, their main characters would be thinking about their environment in those ways and they would be thinking about them at the time the author is talking about them.  Blackmore doesn't interrupt battle to describe the frost on the fields and Anne doesn't muse about Barry's Pond when she's fighting with Gilbert.  But the descriptions of the world are what makes these books more than just a schlocky romance and a stock coming of age book for girls.  Or look at Jane Eyre- the descriptions of the environment and of the characters' physical appearance are actually integral to the plot.  I think it's only when the story comes to a screeching halt that description gets tiresome.  If it's part of the flow, not separate from it, I don't think readers have too much of a problem.  Of course, there's always Dickens to mess that theory up though.  He just alternated chapters, one description, then one action, repeat.  But then, he was making money per word, so who can really blame him if he got away with it?

Offline Seanathin23

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Re: In defense of wordiness? (craft thread)
« Reply #13 on: April 16, 2013, 01:49:40 PM »
Use as many as you need to get the job done. I always feel like I'm not using enough words, but that is probably because I don't go into nearly as much detail as I could or some writers do.

Sometimes I feel like people are going in and adding copious amounts of description just to get the word counts up.


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Re: In defense of wordiness? (craft thread)
« Reply #14 on: April 16, 2013, 02:01:23 PM »
I'm with those who say use as much as the situation calls for - the same sunset needs to be handled differently in a romance than in a thriller, and differently if the POV character is sitting admiring it than if the only importance is that the light faded.

Skimming description is a habit of mine too, but books that have none, where characters seem to be interacting with people who are nothing but names against a colorless background don't do it for me either.

Offline swolf

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Re: In defense of wordiness? (craft thread)
« Reply #15 on: April 16, 2013, 02:02:46 PM »
Specifically concerning sunsets, we've all see sunsets.  And very beautiful ones.  Do you really think writing two paragraphs to describe a beautiful sunset is going to move anyone more than their experience of actually seeing one?

Save the prose for something they haven't seen, which they're more likely to be interested in reading about.

Offline cdvsmx5

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Re: In defense of wordiness? (craft thread)
« Reply #16 on: April 16, 2013, 02:07:19 PM »
Honor every word. Use them where they count.

Offline brendajcarlton

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Re: In defense of wordiness? (craft thread)
« Reply #17 on: April 16, 2013, 02:18:10 PM »
I know the voice of the narrator is not the same as the voices of the characters, but I also think they can't be too disimilar or it seems jarring.  If a wordy discription is on the same page with a terse character, that might be the problem.  Similarly, descriptions work best when the character has some reaction to whatever is being described.  If the lovely sunset brings him comfort or makes him feel even worse about his dismal life or if he's the sort that hardly ever notices such things but the scene is showing that he's changing, then it earns more words than if the author thinks Joe should care but he really doesn't (or the author just gets carried away writing descriptions of sunsets). 
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Re: In defense of wordiness? (craft thread)
« Reply #18 on: April 16, 2013, 02:33:55 PM »
Echoing what dkgould said (though IMO that bit about the bad roads in Lorna Doone was the author slipping out of POV and inserting his own issues into the novel), think what the POV characters themselves would notice. Would they notice the sunset? And how would they describe it?

For example, I just wrote a (short) paragraph describing the appearance and taste of a strawberry. Now we all know what strawberries look and taste like. However, my POV character has never seen a strawberry in her life, let alone eaten one, so the description is important here.

Offline dkgould

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Re: In defense of wordiness? (craft thread)
« Reply #19 on: April 16, 2013, 02:36:35 PM »
Echoing what dkgould said (though IMO that bit about the bad roads in Lorna Doone was the author slipping out of POV and inserting his own issues into the novel)

lol you are so right, but what author hasn't wanted to use their book to kvetch about the potholes on their street? 

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Re: In defense of wordiness? (craft thread)
« Reply #20 on: April 16, 2013, 02:44:35 PM »
Specifically concerning sunsets, we've all see sunsets.  And very beautiful ones.  Do you really think writing two paragraphs to describe a beautiful sunset is going to move anyone more than their experience of actually seeing one?

Save the prose for something they haven't seen, which they're more likely to be interested in reading about.

Yup. If it's a sunset on Mars you've earned some words. If it's typical, you don't need more than the typical amount of words, a sentence or so, to tell me about it. That said, one really sharp description or metaphor will serve you better than a paragraph of rote detail anyway.
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Re: In defense of wordiness? (craft thread)
« Reply #21 on: April 16, 2013, 02:51:42 PM »
lol you are so right, but what author hasn't wanted to use their book to kvetch about the potholes on their street? 

Oh, I certainly sympathize about the potholes. It's just so very jarring how Blackmore stops the story for two pages or so to go on and on about potholes and bad roads and how something ought to be done about it.

Nor is Blackmore the only one to do something like that. There is a classic linguistics essay where the author wastes a whole page on blasting a fellow scholar to prove that said scholar is wrong, wrong, wrong. Alas, the other guy is totally forgotten today, so we're left with an essay interrupted halfway through for a meaningless personal feud. 

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Re: In defense of wordiness? (craft thread)
« Reply #22 on: April 16, 2013, 03:19:47 PM »
But far more often I find that cutting away this wordiness reduces the story. I know we're supposed to encourage the imagination, but I think that things like describing a sunset should take up a lot of words; it's beautiful, it has the character's attention, it's got ambers and purples and all manner of things.

I agree! Although, I would like to think that, rather than encouraging the imagination, we launch it into the world of our making. A sunset, a global-scale tragedy, or the touch of a young child's hand taking yours all call for different words with unique sounds, rhythms, and textures. I'm a musician, so I can't help but think of it in musical terms. Some scenes or emotions call for the sparse intimacy of a string quartet, while others require nothing less than a full, brass-heavy orchestra with its richness of timbres, lush harmonies, and range of dynamics.

I love words. I intend to use them.
« Last Edit: April 16, 2013, 03:22:03 PM by jljarvis »

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Re: In defense of wordiness? (craft thread)
« Reply #23 on: April 16, 2013, 03:22:14 PM »
Are you willing to share examples of some of the suggestions you're getting, David?

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Re: In defense of wordiness? (craft thread)
« Reply #24 on: April 16, 2013, 03:23:29 PM »
Wordiness isn't defined by a specific number of words used. It's defined by using more words than is needed to convey the emotion you want to convey. Wordiness is that point where you stop invoking emotions and start treating the reader like an idiot who is incapable of getting the point.  :o

You may only need 20 words to describe a sunset in practical terms, but need 200 to describe that sunset in emotional terms. Use the 200 words. Wordiness is when it takes you 2000 words to describe a sunset and the reader is sitting there thinking "Alright! I get it! It's pretty! Moving on..."

Julie nailed it. I've seen lots of sunsets. This one had better be different if it's going to be worth 200 words. What's important to me as a reader is what this particular sunset means to the characters, and that can be anything from a sentence to a paragraph to a chapter to a novel.

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