Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Just Tell the Story, Please by Marvin Wilson

In this post I’d like to discuss using restraint in your writing. A sure-fire indication of an immature, novice writer, is the tendency to overwrite; to use extremes way too often in the descriptions of what is happening as the plot moves along. Think of it as ... let’s use parenting as an analogy. You, the writer, are the parent, and your readers are the children.
If you are a parent who is quick to high emotion, easily excited, uses loud, harsh language and outrageous threats all the time to control your kids, well what happens, eventually, to your children? They become immune to the loud decibel levels, the constant haranguing, and all that … to the point where you have to hit them over the head with a frying pan to get them to sit up and pay attention.
If, on the other hand, you parent with controlled emotions, use an even, soft voice the vast majority of the time, and only threaten to exact punishment or disciplinary measures when the real intent is there and then follow through on your word, well … those children, when you raise your voice just a little, will sit up with perked ears and exclaim, “Wow! Better pay attention … Mom almost never uses that tone of voice.”
Get my drift? Here’s an example of unrestrained, loud writing …
John ran out the door as fast as he possibly could. Never in his whole entire life had he ever seen anything so horrible, so awful and terrifying. His blood pounded in his ears like it had never, ever, done so before as he raced with all his might down the street, demanding his legs to carry him away from the hideous scene as fast as they possibly could.
Trust me, I’ve edited books for freshman authors who shout out their prose just like that. So stop chuckling at my blatant overwriting over-exampling. (wink) And imagine an entire book where everyone and everything happening is the mostest, greatest, fastest, unbelievably this or that ever in the whole world or lifetime of the character. It makes you numb. There’s no room left to kick it up a notch, no gas left in the tank when you really need to accelerate your story, hmm?
Okay. Here’s the same passage, toned down, but still getting the point across.
John fled out the door. Never had he seen anything so terrifying. His blood pounded in his ears as he raced down the street, commanding his legs to top speed, distancing him from the hideous scene.
Much better, hmm? Did we miss any story? No. Do I have room left to up the intensity later? Yes. Remember, as you write, the old truism, “Less is more.” Leave room in your prose for acceleration and heightening of intensity when it is necessary, and keep your lead foot off the gas pedal when it isn’t.

Marvin D Wilson, multi-published author and editor with All Things That Matter Press, using the pen name “Professor Old Silly,” posts writing tutorials on his blog each Tuesday. The above tutorial is a re-post from the archives of his blog at:

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