1. labelab

    labelab Member

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    How much is too much?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by labelab, Jun 6, 2019.

    Sometimes writing feels like a play-by-play.

    When reading my work back today, I realised that my writing is overly-descriptive, awkward to both write and read. For example, I remember writing this sentence earlier, and finding it difficult to structure:

    "Maya stopped her bike and leapt from the saddle, peering quickly down both paths, then, with a nod, pointing left."

    This is such a simple piece of action. All I wanted was for the reader to know that they were going down one path, but it branched into a much longer sentence than I expected (sort of like this one), and these stockpiled over the course of the story until it became a collection of unnecessary detail. How do I condense sentences like these? Because, honestly, I don't think any reader cares that Maya nodded and pointed left.
     
  2. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Clarity is a writer's best friend. I think you're trying to say too much in that sentence and perhaps not taking the best approach. Rethink the structure and word choices and maybe split it up. That one needs a little work, but you'll get there.
     
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  3. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    i think you'd be better served by using two or three shorter sentences

    Maya leapt from her bike at the fork in the paths. She peeked down each in turn, then nodded, pointing left.
     
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  4. NobodySpecial

    NobodySpecial Contributor Contributor

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    I would first wonder how essential that passage was to the story. A basic rule of thumb is if it doesn't move the story forward, you don't really need it. Would the story be changed at all if you took that out altogether? Will it make any difference if Maya didn't stop her bike and choose the left fork of a path? Also, is there a specific reason for Maya to be riding a bike on this path? By that, I mean is she going to have an experience integral to a following scene? If not, you could get away with a summary of the ride and pare down the details.
     
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  5. LastMindToSanity

    LastMindToSanity Senior Member

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    You should also take world-building into account. If that path and fork will appear later in the story, you should describe it now, so that it's already been established. Things like that really make a world form, instead of just creating one-off set pieces for specific scenes.

    That being said, you can usually trust a reader to be able to fill in the unimportant details themselves. For example, if the fork has bushes or trees along the side, you can leave that out and let the reader imagine something unimportant like that themselves.
     
  6. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    This is often an issue for me, and I generally do it in editing. I realize that I don’t need that detail, or that gesture, or that paragraph, and in fact could this entire scene just be two lines at the beginning of the next scene?

    I’m guessing that in the example, the parts that matter are switching from bike to foot, and the left path? It also sounds like she’s leading someone?

    Maya skidded the bike to a halt and got off. I watched her scan—left? Right? Left. She marched off; we followed.

    At the crossroads, Maya abandoned the bike and walked down the left-hand path.


    At the crossroads, we abandoned the bikes and walked down the left-hand path.

    Does the left path even matter?

    Two miles in, Maya abandoned the bike and continued on foot.

    Can the journey be summarized?

    Two miles by bike, and then we took the last few hundred yards by foot, with Maya glaring furiously at anyone who rustled a leaf or cracked a stick underfoot. Gathered nervously around the back door, we...
     
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  7. Seven Crowns

    Seven Crowns Contributor Contributor

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    There's nothing particularly wrong with the sentence itself. I mean, I see two edits I would make, but that's not the point. I think the issue you're seeing is a paragraph level problem. Any weakness in the paragraph can be blamed on its sentences (Just as problems with the sentence reduces to phrase, and phrase to word, etc. It goes up the ladder too: to scene, arc, and story.) Most paragraph level problems are really a loss of flow. You build flow with shifting structures, style, and purpose of the sentences. I think you're seeing sentences of one purpose, and that's dragging down the flow. That's catching your editing eye.

    I wouldn't even call this a problem with description. It's more of a choreographic problem. You are listing actions, but description usually implies something unique and outside of the norm. It's the reason that the description was needed, because it couldn't just be assumed. There was something special about it. What you're doing is listing micro-actions that may or may not add much to the story (peer, nod, point). These type of things are always there (and they'd better be), but if you're noticing too many them, you're probably right; they need to be toned down.

    What you can do is reduce the sentence to its sentence kernels.
    1. Maya stopped the bike.
    2. Maya leapt off the bike.
    3. Maya hurried.
    4. Maya looked at the paths.
    5. Maya nodded.
    6. Maya pointed left.
    Kernels have one actor, one action, no synonyms/adverbs or extra phrases. I might have broken it down farther. I think I dropped some details.

    Then you can decide what is really important and what is an empty action. I would say that 4 and 6 are the same idea. (She's just expressing a decision.) Leaping off the bike implies stopping it, so 1 and 2 can be combined. Five is not really necessary. It's just stressing the decision. (Maybe that's important to you in the end though.) Hurried is already covered by leapt, so 3 can go too

    Maya leapt off the bike and after peering ahead, chose the left path.

    Then you have a basic transformation of the kernel(s). It should say everything that's needed for the idea. Whatever is added to that transformation should add new meaning. You had a "point," which could go back in. The "left" is fine. It's an empty detail. You could leave it or if it really bothers you having it say so little, try to make it more unique.

    Maya leapt off her bike and after peering ahead, pointed down the well-paved path weaving through the dogwoods.

    That's how I'd approach it. The kernel step is done in my head. Well . . . if I was really struggling with a closing/opening line, I might break it down on paper.

    tldr: reduce to sentence to kernels (basic ideas). Build back what matters. If you need more, and you often will, add real description in lieu of the lines you dropped.
     
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  8. peachalulu

    peachalulu Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Whenever there is a plain bit of detail for me to disclose I try to attach it to something of value or interest. Not always sometimes I keep it simple … but what do you want to note for the reader? That she has to check cause there's no signs or markers, or because Maya had been there before and the others realize they'd be lost without their guide and that makes them nervous. What kind of tone do you want to convey?
     
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  9. Thundair

    Thundair Contributor Contributor

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    There was already a lot of good advice here, but I thought I might add a trick I use and it has helped me with description.
    I use a script to voice software and close my eyes so that it is read back to me. Sometimes I can read something several times and I'm blind to the redundant verbiage.
     
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  10. labelab

    labelab Member

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    This is so helpful, thank you! I'll be bookmarking this ;)
     
  11. labelab

    labelab Member

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    I feel like this is my problem; I don't know how to build up to the action scene I have prepared in my head without preluding it with unnecessary scenes. In this story, I'd say around 80% of it was them riding to a castle and looking up at the castle- these scenes were fillers, basically, to introduce the reader to the thoughts of my protagonist- but overall there was only a page or two dedicated to their journey inside it. Perhaps my main problem here was a lack of purpose. This was a very short story, around 2000 words or so, and there was no solid plot or idea to carry it forwards. It was just a series of things that were happening to get them there.

    I think I confuse people sometimes with my questions, so I'll condense this down into one:

    How do I write a scene that's not centred around the main point of action, but still necessary?

    e.g. Harry Potter is centred around defeating Voldemort, and only a small fraction is explicitly about that. But it's not like the rest of the scenes are fillers. How does Rowling make them worth reading?
     
  12. GrJs

    GrJs Active Member

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    I like the way you’ve written this sentence. It’s incredibly clear about what is going on and not written in a way that is cringy to read. Even reading it out loud doesn’t clog up the flow of it.

    I think you should take into account that your sentence structure is not the way the story is read but the way it is presented. And the way it is presented is how atmosphere and impact is made. If you look at other writers they each have a distinctive style to their writing and not a single one is the same.

    Read Good Omens by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchet as well as Ice Station by Matthew Reily. The styles of writing are completely different and each lends its self to the atmosphere and impact the story has. I think the juxtaposition will be helpful in understanding my point if I’m not clear on it.

    You don’t have to have the bare minimum of words. You have to have an atmosphere and an impact in the way you present your story through your structure.
     
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