Monday, June 03, 2019

over explaining

A recent manuscript I was reading suffered from lack of confidence.
How can a manuscript lack confidence you ask?
Well, it wasn't the manuscript so much as the writer.
How can a writer lack confi...oh wait, you know all about that don't you?

In this instance it meant that the writer did not have the confidence to just say something. The something had to be elaborated, explained, or just said again in different words.

That kind of accessorizing undercuts the power of your work.
Just say it.

Have the confidence to let the words just be there on the page.

This is the kind of thing you watch for when revising. Are you repeating something you just said? Which version is better? Keep that one.

Intended repetition is a powerful tool.
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

UNINTENDED repetition is cumbersome.
Watch for it.

It's not wrong. It's not an error.
Spell check, or even most beta readers won't catch it.
You'll catch it when you're looking at your work on a granular level.
Word by word; sentence by sentence.


Sarah G said...

I had a great teacher who explained it with math. 1 + 1 = 1/2

E.M. Goldsmith said...

My worst habit in early versions of my work is to constantly repeat. It used to be certain words. I have killed that habit mostly. Now it is concepts - telling the reader over and over the same bit of exposition in different words. Each revision I cut that as much as I can. I tell my beta readers to look for it. I cut what they find. Each time I write new words, I have to go back and cut the repetition.

I think some of this is a product of sending/querying too soon as much as lack of confidence on the writer's part. Naturally, when on a writing jag, a writer will repeat things in first/early drafts thinking they have yet to introduce the concept. Especially if you are powering through the early draft like I do - just getting it on paper.

Janet tells us constantly to let your words sit between revisions to ferment and to give you a chance to develop fresh eyes. This is one of those things you might not see until you've let your manuscript sit a few weeks.

Mister Furkles said...

Another thing that shows up in my crit group is pleonasms. Repetition, yes. But also unnecessary words and phrases. Sometimes they add to voice but mostly they push the reader out of the scene.

Then there is the problem of multiple modifiers. Usually, one is much stronger than two. Use one to inspire the reader's imagination and [oops, there's 'and'] don't try for pedantic precision.

Lennon Faris said...

Can someone give some generic examples?

A visual will help (me) I think!

Kitty said...

When I discover I'm over explaining, it's usually because I'm uncertain of what I'm trying to say.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Here's an example I think.

Jump high, run like the wind and work hard to achieve your goals. Your dreams can come true if you go for it because you'll never know unless you try.


Just do it.

Brenda said...

Well done Carolynn.

Beth Carpenter said...

Nice, Carolynn.

One repetition I have to watch is repeating dialogue/action.

He nodded. "Yes, I do."

"Tell me, tell me, tell me!" she demanded, jumping up and down with excitement.

"Oh no. A known thief would never take something that didn't belong to him," she answered, sarcastically.

Kelly said...

Pro tip that I heard at the New England SCBWI conference this past May from author Lisa Yee. Change your font and font size when revision. I tried this with my most revision, also using the read aloud feature in Word, and I was able to take my middle grade manuscript from 55,000 words to 43,000. A lot of what got deleted was me saying blah, blah, blah, when I could have just said blah.

Lennon Faris said...

OK, thanks, 2Ns, and Beth. Always good to get the MSS more lean. Lately I've noticed that I often over-explain who the speaker is:

"Hello," he said, and stuck out his hand.

instead of,

"Hello." He stuck out his hand.

25% weight loss right there...

Pericula Ludus said...

I second that, Kelly, the read out loud function helps me catch so much repetition (and other sins). That grating automaton voice should be given as little as possible to read so it really inspires me to make necessary cuts.

Karen McCoy said...

Loved what Sarah G said. Also reminds me of when my 12th grade English teacher wrote in the margins on my papers: EUW (Eliminate Unnecessary Words). The trick is to see which words aren't pulling their weight, and, most often the sentence can do just fine without them. Carolynn's example does nicely.

Konnie Enos said...

I personally have issues with redundancy (repeating the same thing just with different wording, including tell and then showing the action- or visa versa). Echo: repeating words/phrases too frequently. And yes, pleonasms: employing unneeded words.

I'm working on it.

John Davis Frain said...


But remember, this is your 3rd or 5th revision. Don't worry about it when you're getting your story down. Write in your writer's voice. When you put on your editing hat, then you start seeing all that repetition in its many forms.

KDJames said...

This is so hard to catch. I like what Kitty said, suspecting it happens because she's uncertain about what she's trying to say. Interesting perspective.

I also do another kind of repetition, of duplicating words within a sentence. Instead of "to the" I'll type "the the." Or type "under the table under the table." Sometimes I'll just leave words out, which is also charming. *eyeroll* I'm not sure whether my fingers are going faster than my brain, or vice versa. But they're clearly not always in sync.

MA Hudson said...

"The more you leave out, the more you highlight what you leave in"
- Henry Green

BJ Muntain said...

I'm coming in late, but I think some of what Janet means is saying the same thing twice, like:

Jane wept at the sight of Kitty's urn, the final resting place of the sweetest calico to ever live. She missed that cat so much.

Here, the writer has no confidence the reader will understand the first sentence, so translates it into an easier, less interesting sentence that explains the emotion.