Tuesday, April 26, 2011

V is for Verbose

Verbose: using too many words; wordy.

I’m sure we’ve all met people who say too much, and also some who say too little. Thus, there must exist, somewhere, a happy medium between the two. Kind of like the song says we gotta know when to hold 'em, and know when to fold 'em. As a fiction writer, this is especially important to me. It is absolutely crucial to find a good balance between “Never-ending windbag of description” and “I can’t even picture what he’s talking about because he doesn’t tell me shit.” It’s there, and it’s our job to find it.

I have heard many people complain that they don’t read King because he’s too wordy. They say he can take pages just to describe a cloudy sky. I have not found that to be the case at all but then again, I do like descriptive writing. To me, King is nowhere near over the top. He still leaves a lot to the imagination, which is his job. I feel he does it well, and that he is a stellar writer. You aren’t going to please everyone, all the time, but if your writing is strong and effective, you are bound to please many of them.

Let me give a weak and boring example: He stepped over the aged, yellowed threshold and peered into the library, which had been vacant of life for the better part of a century. The smell of dust and mold was almost overwhelming. He placed his hand on the ancient, tarnished brass doorknob as an afterthought. He could feel the history in the room. His eyes instinctually followed one of the darker boards on the floor as it traveled to the farthest wall. The board was unlike any of the rest of the floorboards, although he could not exactly put his finger on why. He stood on one end of it and the other end traveled directly to a spooky-looking red book on the bottom shelf that looked as if it didn’t belong with the rest. Intrigued, he took a few more small steps into the room, keeping that book in his sights. As he neared it, he felt tingles in his arms and on his back. Something in that book was drawing him, calling to him. He reached for it and...

Or, we could say something like this: He opened the door to the long-abandoned, musty smelling library and looked around. He noticed a floorboard that was darker than the others, and his gaze followed its lead to a rather odd-looking red book on the shelf. Interested, he walked over and reached out for it and...

Both those passages convey essentially the same things, but one is obviously more “into it”, if you will. I largely prefer the first one but you’ll see how little space the second one takes, as well as its simplicity. Maybe the difference is that one works better in a novel, where an author has more room to play and the other works best in a short tale, where the story itself trumps the details. Maybe.

So, what about you? Are you a wordy person or someone who likes to get to the point and leave the cumbersome details to someone else? How do you tell a story, or recount an incident, even when talking? Do you pick the big ideas out and convey only them, or tell all that you can possibly remember about it? I find I’m very interested in all the different takes on the subject. I think, personally, that writing in a few more details than makes us comfortable can actually gear us toward better writing. By the same token, too many details can shadow the story and hurt our writing in general.

7 comments:

KBalbify said...

I don't like a lot of description in novels that I read. I find I skip over paragraphs that are heavily detailed, looking for the basics in just a few key words. My writing is similar. Sometimes that is good and other times,not so good.

I don't find Stephen King's novel's horrendously detailed.

Marie Anne said...

I don't write fiction, but just in my everyday writing, I can be both, depending on what I'm writing and what I'm writing it for.

L.L. Woodard said...

When I'm reading fiction, I get bogged down if there are too many details, and like KBalbify, skip over those paragraphs.

Word Nerd said...

I don't like too many details when I read. The main reason I prefer books to movies is that as a reader, I can fill in the details as I go, making the story come alive as I envision each scene. If a writer spells too much out, it takes away a good chunk of the pleasure.

That being said, there does need to be enough description to spark a connection. I guess the answer is that I don't know exactly what the perfect blend is--but I do know it when I read it.


I’m A-Z Blogging, and my “V” post is right here.

Christina said...

I ramble in everything. When I write I usually end up going back and cutting half of what I start with.

Lisa Carey said...

I usually have to depend on my word count :) It is my little reminder to not get wordy.

DeusExLibrus said...

I find the best place is somewhere it the middle. Too much description and you lose any sense of forward motion Too little, and you're talking about a person in a space so nebulous a reader could be envisioning something utterly different than you. One thing though, and maybe its just me, but starting more than two sentences in a row with the same article annoys me. It feels stilted or some such thing. Actually, starting more than one sentence in a row with the same article feels annoying and stilted. *admits he's probably done this at least once at some point.*