By: Robin Rivera
Overwriting is a common problem for new writers. Even experienced writers can fall victim to the issue. It’s something, as a reader, that drives me nuts. It’s also something I’m guilty of needing friendly reminders about in my own early drafts.
Overwriting is defined as: a tendency to write too much, or too ornately.
A classic sign of overwriting is passages that read heavy, or require rereading to understand. It’s not something you want in your writing because those extra words obstruct the meaning, and lead to readers giving up or skimming. Overwriting can also read as stale or forced, like the writer is trying too hard.
Here are things I consider when I’m editing for overwriting:
- Start Right: The beginning of a book is often the most overwritten part. Many writers draft the first chapter several times, and infodumps and too much backstory creep in during that process. Either these extra bits need to go or they can be reworked into other chapters as needed.
- Trust the Reader: Readers are smart and they can remember what they read. Cutting out repetitions and leaving some aspects of the story to their imaginations is something all great writers do.
- Dump the Drama Queens: When every emotional nuance of a character’s inner journey ends up on the page they can sound like melodramatic crazy people. Most real people have emotional filters, and so should characters.
- Pull the Purple Prose: A well-placed new word is fun, even a touch of flowery language (if the character and the scene call for it) might work, but no one enjoys reading thesaurus vomit.
- Watch the Jargon: When an unusual word is the only one that works, it’s a good idea to make sure it’s clear from the context, or it’s defined in simple language.
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