Welcome to my world and beyond...

A collection of snippets of the books I write and, occasionally, my life and the things that inspire my writing...

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A to Z: O is for Overwriting

Right off let me confess... I've tried and tried to read Tolstoy's "War and Peace". I have a big old hardback copy of it. Looks dang classy setting on my bookcase. But I can't bring myself to do it, to invest the time to digest every fine detail the man felt inspired or compelled to include. I think I made it as far as when he went into his long-winded prattle about the fine black down above a woman's lips... Sorry. I was done.

From Merriam-Webster online: to write in a way that is too detailed or complicated  :  to write in inflated or overly elaborate style.

To be fair, incorrect syntax often exacerbates the problem of overwriting, or the simple inclusion of (non-descriptive) unnecessary words. But those are best left to another day, another time.

Overwriting turns me off. I can set a book down faster than you can say "Purple Prose!".

And Tolstoy's not alone. Many of the old classics included overwriting. They were written in a different age, though, and I really think that matters. In their time, overwriting was likely a tad more acceptable.

Some authors get it right, though, authors who've written several  million words. Steven Montano's prose is amazing. It's chock full of descriptives, but it never feels overwritten. The man has skills. It simply plunges the reader down into his fictional worlds, kicking and screaming--dragged by all 5 senses. So, it can be done, but inexperienced writers rarely if ever, have the skills to pull it off.

Here's my guess why it might happen now. And I see this all of the time. Writers generously (and with good intent) offering advice to other writers to "show, don't tell". And when that advice is received by an inexperienced writer, a newbie to the craft, their first reaction is probably (I speak from experience) ...What the heck do they mean by that??

And then they look it up. And they are inundated with information. And the first take away from what they've sorted out from their search for meaning is this (and again I speak from experience): Describe everything until a 3 year old could sketch it with crayons, and then...describe it again, just in case.

And you smile while reading this because you're pretty sure how that works out. :-)

I continued with my writing journey. And I had a lot of help along the way. Weekend Writing Warriors and it's predecessor, Six Sentence Sunday, gave me good criticism that was never harsh. That was where I learned to put my delicate feelings in check, and to leave my ego at the door.  And I work with an excellent crit partner and freelance editor. All moved me forward to a better place in the grand writing scheme.

But, a lot of writers don't continue to learn the writing craft. They go ahead and publish.

Just my opinion. I'm still learning, though. Hope to never stop...  :-)

Visit other  April Blogging from A to Z Challenge by clicking here. 


  1. It only took me 19 days to read War and Peace, and I'm still disappointed I didn't finish it in the two weeks I'd hoped for going in. Fewer things appeal to me more than a big, fat, juicy tome, provided it's written well.

    It might seem odd, but my most overwritten books, the ones most in need of editing and revising, are all under 100,000 words, while my super-long sagas were written and planned more carefully.

  2. Yes, overwriting is a turnoff for me too. But! it can be subjective. I had an editor tell me I had too much description and one tell me there wasn't enough, on the same ms. How does one find the balance? It can be a challenge, a fun one. I like to think about it this way: If I'm writing from my character's pov, how would he or she see this? Some characters do overkill it, it's a part of who they are, others rarely take a moment to breathe in the beautiful. This is how I find balance, and when reading, I love it when a character remains true to his voice in this way. Seeing the world as he does inspires and is a joy, but it must be from his eyes, or it's just information the writers wants to dump on me I don't like. Great post!!!

  3. is that quote about "3 year old" really written some place?? the above comment was interesting - opinion. I should say something more - but don't want to over write lol