Artists know when they’ve added a bit too much paint to the canvas. They recognize when they’ve overdone it. An artist once told me he never completely finished a painting because he didn’t want to ruin it. By “ruin it” he meant, kill the tone, the feel, the essence of the work by over painting.
For writers this is very tricky because we want to be sure our readers know enough to grasp the story or our message. If we write with too much sparse, readers sometimes feel confused. But, if we overwrite, we, like artists ruin the piece of work. Giving just enough so the reader gasps but can still use their imaginations is the goal. Artists strive to capture the same thing in a painting. They want the viewer to grasp the message but to use their imaginations to appreciate the painting.
Unlike the artist, we cannot leave our work partially unfinished. Readers need closure, an ending. What are some other ways to write without overwriting? Here are a few of my tips, things I’ve learned along the way. Please add some of yours.
- Beware of your descriptions. Usually the place where writers tend to overwrite is the descriptions of people, events, places, weather. If you’ve shown us your character or place by using each of the five senses, you’ve said enough. Repeating these or looking for different ways to describe the same thing isn’t necessary.
- Edit ruthlessly. If you overwrote in your first draft, that’s fine. But, you must edit all that extra stuff out. Adding words to make your manuscript meet certain word counts is not the way to write. Only add words that are needed. If a scene leads nowhere, eliminate it. I recently saw a movie where I left wondering why certain scenes were there. The scenes did not add to the plot or help describe the characters or their relationships. They seemed superfluous to me. Perhaps the screen writer just loved them. That’s not a good reason to keep a scene.
- Listen to your early readers. If they say they do not understand a character’s motivation, perhaps you need to write more to make that clearer. If they say they got it the first time and no more is needed, pay attention. Of course, not all readers will be as keen as others. You need to get a variety of viewpoints, but they those viewpoints very seriously.
- Do all you can to write tight. Eliminate unnecessary adjectives and adverbs. Find strong verbs and nouns that say the same thing. Instead of say he quickly left the room, say “He stormed from the room.” Look for how you can get your meaning without the modifiers.