Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Don't Over-Work Your Wording and Sentences

We all want that perfect line in your stories. We want that great opening paragraph to draw the readers in. We want that perfect scene where the dialogue is amazing. And yes, this will occur. However, what you will find is that if you overly work those lines, if you wordsmith the story to death, the writing becomes forced.

As I was heading out to the grocery last night, I was listening to NPR and Terri Gross interviewing Colton Whitehead and his latest novel, UNDERGROUND RADIO. As I listened to Whitehead reading from his opening chapter, it felt as if he was trying really hard to make the perfect passage.

Now, I do understand this might simply be a personal preference in writing and something I am not a big fan of, but as I listened, the writing sounded forced and unnatural. Much of this came from a heavy emphasis of metaphors, similes and figurative language. When we use this approach and really push using that language, we depart from the way "normal" people talk in the real world.

As you think about your writing, think as if you are that character. Is your character likely to use those exact words you spent minutes formulating, or will that character just talk? Will that character describe the mountains he or she sees in the distance as a piece of artistic poetry, or simply just describe what the mountains look like.

I had the chance to sit in a workshop at a conference a while ago and listened to the speaker go into great detail of how all great authors intentionally incorporate all of these great literary devices and figurative language elements in their writing. They speaker went on to describe how writers should really strive to insert these same devices into their writing. The speaker stated that it was the use of the devices that make the writing great.

In reality, when we make the writing overly complicated and full of sentences that sound overly worked, the writing slows and we run the risk of really getting to the heart of the conflict and what the writers are going through.

Now, does this mean that we should completely eliminate all of the figurative language and not care about how the sentences and scenes sound. Absolutely not. It is for this same reason that we do not do like some authors try to proclaim, of writing without adjectives and adverbs, or writing only in active voice and not passive voice. We write what is natural for the characters, for the moment, and for the voice of the story.

Yes, read your story out loud! Yes, make sure that passage sounds great. But also understand the story must be something people will want to read. They don't want to sit there and read a single sentence and then linger over that sentence the entire day/

1 comment:

  1. I've been in workshops similar to what you've described. I think the key is to take from it what works for you and ditch the rest. For instance, I'm not a fan of metaphors, similies and things of that ilk, so they always sound forced to me.

    Reading out loud (or better yet having someone else read it out loud to you) really shows the stumbling blocks and things that don't sound natural.

    Thanks for posting this, Scott, it's a timely reminder. I'm about to go to another writing workshop.