My name is Talia and I am an overwriter.  

There.  That wasn’t so hard to admit.   

Chances are, all of us are guilty of overwriting at some point in a manuscript.   And it’s often our favorite part of the book. The phrase “kill your darlings” was created for overwriters. Especially in the current market, where readers have so many competing entertainment options and are looking for quick stories well told.  We have to be ruthless to purge the purple prose from our manuscripts.

But first, what does it mean to overwrite?  Think of it in terms of its sound-alike cousin, overwrought.  When an author tries to evoke a certain image or show their mastery over literary craft to such an extent that the reader notices.  And if the reader notices, it means that the reader has stopped being engaged in your characters and the story comes to a screeching halt.  

As a caveat, in the right hands, it can be a joy to stop and admire a well turned phrase that finds just the right image or uses words in ways both poetic and vivid.  But the reality is that most of us are not that writer.  We need readers to stay with our characters, to keep turning the pages and stay engaged in our stories.  And overwriting slows things down.  

Never fear.  There is hope for us overwriters.  A good editor or critique partner can rein us in.  But we can also learn to recognize when your prose has crossed a line from descriptive to distracting by cleaning out some excess verbiage.

Adverbs.  Stephen King said that when he reads his early novels, he cringes at his liberal use of adverbs.  I don’t know if it started with King, but there is no question that adverbs have fallen out of fashion in modern stories.  Use them sparingly.  Adverbs have been all but replaced by descriptive verbs in modern fiction.  Why say “he ran quickly” when you could say “he raced?” Other times, adverbs simply echo something that is already clear in the sentence.  If you see adverbs in your prose, ask yourself whether a more precise verb would be better,  or if the sentence still works with the adverb eliminated altogether.

Adjectives.  Adjectives don’t have quite the rap that adverbs do, but they’re getting there.  A well placed adjective can still work, but chances are you don’t need nearly as many as you think you do.  A perfect image can be lost when it’s surrounded by too many other, less important ones.  Look for sentences and paragraphs with multiple adjectives.  Then cut the ones that are repetitive or detract from the primary image.

Descriptive Passages.  Watch out for long paragraphs describing a place or long interior monologues that aren’t broken up with action or dialogue.  If paragraphs, sentences or descriptions are too long, readers will skim.  And then they’ll miss that one perfect image that you buried in the middle.  Leave that one.  You can have one or two others leading up to it, but that’s it.  

Repetition.  Readers are smart.  They get it.  Avoid saying the same thing multiple times.  You don't have to say the same thing twice.  See how I did that?  Don't.

Write your novel in as few words as possible.  Only the most vital, necessary words should stay.  Build your world, weave in your layers, show how your character grows, but do it a succinctly as possible.  Let the story be the focus, not your writing.  

Readers want to be immersed in the story.  Writing should look effortless, not effort-full. 


LOL, wasn't it Stephen King who said, "The road to hell is paved with adverbs"? If not, it was someone equally as famous.

Good reminder for writers in all stages of their career. You may sneak this kind of fatty wording into your rough draft, but it's time to trim up in the editing process. Thanks!

I am the President of Over-writers Anonymous!

Just finished my final revision of my new book with Scholastic (it's off to copy edits - yay!) and took out 45 pages of overwordiness. I even added an entire chapter and I'm still down 45 pages overall. Which means I really cut about 55. Sheesh.

At least I can cut though!

Yeah... I am an overwriter too. *face ablaze in confirmation* This I blame on my first introduction, and thus LOVE, of the world of Fantasy writing; the late Robert Jordan. The man could spend half a chapter describing a field of flowers. LOL But I loved every bit of it. At least there is hope for me. HA! Wonderful post, as always.

I am so glad I am not alone in this.

Anna, I think that quote is from Stephen King. Poor adverbs get no respect.

Kimberley, it's amazing how those words can add up!

DB, there was a time when flowery, descriptive prose was in vogue. Too bad we can't indulge ourselves as much in today's market.

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