My head is in full-on editing mode, which means that I’m going around with “editing brain” turned on. Right now I feel like I should make myself a sticky note and slap it at the top of my computer screen: Do not overwrite!
One of my betas pointed out (accurately) that I have a tendency to over-explain my characters’ state of mind and actions. This is something I’ve been particularly focused on during my current round of revisions on the urban fantasy novel — not just in that area, but all of my overwriting tendencies. I still maintain that you will pry my adverbs out of my cold dead hands. But there are two specific things I’ve recently become aware of in my own writing, that I’ve been trying to fix.
Meandering descriptions of characters’ states of mind is the big one. “Where did he go?” she asked. She could hardly think for her worry; if only she had asked him for more details about his plans when she last saw him!
As opposed to: “Where did he go?” she asked, worried. Or just: “Where did he go?”
Obviously there is often a need for a little of this, but overdone, it turns into a sea of words, getting in the way of the reader actually seeing what’s going on.
The other thing I’ve noticed is that I often use too many descriptors. I like writing description. I think I’m pretty good at it. But there is no need to shovel in every detail of a scene, and in particular, I tend to overuse a similar construction to the following:
The canister was probably plastic or a dull metal. He upended it and dumped a handful of bright blue, glass or plastic beads into his palm.
The reason why I get tripped up on this one is because, often, the viewpoint character doesn’t have any way to know the exact specifics of the scene. So it feels (to me) as if being more specific, giving specifics the character doesn’t know, breaks out of their viewpoint. Stumbling through the dark room, she tripped over a chair or maybe a table. She can’t tell if it’s a chair or a table — it’s dark! But it doesn’t actually matter, unless the ambiguity is important. Far less intrusive to write: Stumbling through the dark room, she tripped over a chair. Just pick something and move on. As long as it doesn’t egregiously break POV, the reader won’t care.
Or: He upended the metal canister and dumped a handful of bright blue glass beads into his palm.
Who cares if the viewpoint character can tell at a glance if they’re glass or plastic? Maybe it’s obvious. Mostly, it just doesn’t matter. It’s extra, needless words to wade through, that don’t add anything to the scene. And it draws the reader’s attention to a completely pointless ambiguity. Unless, of course, the ambiguity is important. And it might be, especially in a sci-fi setting:
The canister was made of plastic or a dull metal; she’d never seen its like before.
I guess you don’t want to go overboard with the de-ambiguifying, obviously, by getting too specific for what the character can actually see or what they know. It’s not always “specific good, nonspecific bad”. It’s mostly the “this or that” construction that can usually be shortened down to “this”. Eight or nine hours later, they left the inn versus Eight hours later, they left the inn. Or Some kind of bird was singing outside the window, maybe a robin, as opposed to Robins were singing outside the window. Wading through a bunch of this kind of thing is making me want to shake my writer-self and go, “Just PICK something already!”
Crossposted to Wordpress
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