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Too wordy

Switch Blayde
Updated:

We haven't talked about writing in a while so since I came upon something I consider faulty writing I thought I'd start this discussion. I'm reading a really good story that's written pretty well. The major flaw is the author is too wordy. That means he uses unnecessary words to get his point across, but also means he repeats himself (I think that's the way to explain it).

Here are two examples:


You know what else she told me?" I shook my head no, that I didn't know.


"that I didn't know" isn't needed. Just extra words.


I wondered how much Brenda was telling Claudia about what we were doing.

"Do you tell Claudia about the things we've done?"


Why have the, "I wondered how much Brenda was telling Claudia about what we were doing"?

The dialogue already says that. Maybe he's telling what he already showed. But it's extra words that aren't needed.

Replies:   REP
REP

@Switch Blayde

But it's extra words that aren't needed.


Possibly. I also have the habit of introducing a dialog passage by stating the purpose of the dialog. I feel that it gives my readers insight into what I am about to present.

I like to ensure what I am saying in a story is clear to my reader. So Yes, I am also guilty of being wordy.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde
Updated:

@REP


I like to ensure what I am saying in a story is clear to my reader.


That's when the author doesn't trust the reader to understand what he's "showing." So he tells what he showed or about to show. I do that too, but I usually get rid of it during editing.

ETA: I didn't mean this to be a "show don't tell" or "don't show and tell the same thing." My first example is simply having unnecessary words.

I shook my head no, that I didn't know.


He already told the reader that he "shook his head no" to the question. Then he explained what that meant.

LucyAnneThorn

@Switch Blayde

He already told the reader that he "shook his head no" to the question. Then he explained what that meant.


I'm curious about the "no" there. My English teachers would have struck that word through as superfluous and not idiomatic, and I am pretty sure that until ten years ago, I hardly ever came about the expressions "shake so.'s head no" or "nod so.'s head yes". It seems they are getting more common over the last few years, though, even though I only ever encounter them in writing and have never heard someone talk that way yet. But then, I'm not a native speaker and don't live in an English speaking part of the world, so my picture is limited. Is the addition of the "no" or "yes" generally acceptable, or is it perhaps a regional or cultural thing?

Switch Blayde

@LucyAnneThorn

I'm curious about the "no" there.


I didn't want to get too picky so I didn't mention that, but I believe "no" is an unneeded word.

You shake your head side to side which is no. You nod up and down which is yes.

But it's not bad, just like "stand up" vs just "stand." How many ways can you stand? But I use "stand up" sometimes and "stand" other times, whichever sounds right.

REP

@Switch Blayde

but I believe "no" is an unneeded word.


I don't know about you and other people, but when I'm thinking about something that I need to respond to, I frequently nod or shake my head slightly. Those head movements are in response to my thoughts - not an answer to what I was asked.

Thus, I would say Yes and No are needed for clarity.

Switch Blayde

@REP

Thus, I would say Yes and No are needed for clarity.


As I said, whatever sounds right (or is right for what you're trying to get across to the reader).

helmut_meukel
Updated:

@Switch Blayde


You shake your head side to side which is no. You nod up and down which is yes.


There are places in this world where it's the other way round.

From Wikipedia:

in some Southeastern European areas such as Bulgaria and southern Albania, it is used for the opposite purpose, to indicate affirmation, meaning "yes". In those regions, nodding in fact means "no" as well, the complete reverse of most other places in the world


HM.

ETA
In a SF or Fantasy story all bets are off.
A shrug may be 'Yes' and a smile (showing your teeth) may indicate aggression.
How would human visitors avoid misunderstandings if getting a read face means disrespect (slight blushing) or disdain (deep blushing)?

Replies:   Tw0Cr0ws
Dominions Son

@REP

I frequently nod or shake my head slightly. Those head movements are in response to my thoughts - not an answer to what I was asked.


But in that case, shouldn't the yes or no be dialog rather than part of the narration.

Bob shook his head, "No."

Fran nodded, "Yes."

Replies:   REP
awnlee jawking

@Switch Blayde

But it's not bad, just like "stand up" vs just "stand." How many ways can you stand? But I use "stand up" sometimes and "stand" other times, whichever sounds right.


Given your penchant for ex-military types, I would be surprised if you'd never used 'stand down'. ;)

AJ

awnlee jawking

@LucyAnneThorn

SOL is very much Western oriented. My characters nod or shake their heads and I assume readers will understand that means 'yes' and 'no' respectively.

Other authors have non-Western settings with non-Western characters and they tend to elaborate on what the nod and shake means, because they differ across cultures.

AJ

REP

@Dominions Son

shouldn't the yes or no be dialog


That is one way to handle it.

Bob indicated No by shaking his head

Fran nodded to indicate Yes.

Andrew_Wiggin

I'm currently reading a story that is the poster-boy of wordiness. The author has created two parallel story lines that I trust will eventually merge. But I doubt that I'll be able to stand the wait.
For example, the hero of one story line meets another character in Chapter 27. They start a journey that is to take 1/2 day. They were still on the journey in Chapter 38. You will be reading for more time than these two spent on their journey.
The second story line takes place in a spaceship, and this author must be a committed Trekkie. He describes the ship in excruciating detail--explaining functionality that will have no further use in telling the story he's trying to write. The second story line became so wordy that I gave up on it. Eventually when the two story lines merge, maybe I'll go back a few chapters in story line two to see what happened --if I hang around that long. But for now, I just don't care anymore.

Replies:   sunkuwan  Switch Blayde
sunkuwan

@Andrew_Wiggin

You are talking about Code monkey, right?
I gave up early on, where the mc needed a full chapter to get out of bed.

Replies:   anim8ed
Wheezer

Padding the word count to qualify for free Premium membership?

anim8ed

@sunkuwan

Three Square Meals is just as wordy.

Replies:   karactr
karactr

@anim8ed

Three Square Meals is just as wordy


But much more interesting to read.

Switch Blayde

@Andrew_Wiggin

He describes the ship in excruciating detail


That's a different kind of wordy.

That's not extra words to get the point across, but rather simply getting into too much detail or description. I think it's common in SciFi.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Tw0Cr0ws

@helmut_meukel

From Wikipedia:

in some Southeastern European areas such as Bulgaria and southern Albania, it is used for the opposite purpose, to indicate affirmation, meaning "yes". In those regions, nodding in fact means "no" as well, the complete reverse of most other places in the world


My understanding is that was a conscious choice made in reaction to the conquest and forced religious conversions by the Ottoman Empire so that they could gesture no and be misunderstood as yes while the sword was at their throat.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

That's when the author doesn't trust the reader to understand what he's "showing." So he tells what he showed or about to show. I do that too, but I usually get rid of it during editing.

Or, for many of us, we use the proper techniques, but repeated complaints (typically from the same readers) force us to double down and make what's expressed with showing explicit by telling readers what's going on, so they aren't caught blindsided later.

I see this more of a problem with certain readers skimming over lengthy dialogue passages, rather than the showing techniques being faulty. :( But it's frustrating to work hard to prepare the reader for changes in the story, only to get complaints later because they weren't paying attention.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

I didn't want to get too picky so I didn't mention that, but I believe "no" is an unneeded word.

You shake your head side to side which is no. You nod up and down which is yes.

But it's not bad, just like "stand up" vs just "stand." How many ways can you stand? But I use "stand up" sometimes and "stand" other times, whichever sounds right.

None of those are 'wrong', grammatically, but as you say, they're utterly unnecessary, thus they tend to remain in when they should get cut during editing.

Just as there are only so many ways to stand ("up" is the only one that makes sense): the same typically applies to "sit", "jump" and "leap".

For those of us who already write overly complex sentences, it's especially important to remove these 'extra' words in order to make the sentences parsable (?). Generally, it's okay to have multiple threads in a single sentence, but when you do, you want to keep each distinct thread as clear and simple as possible (typically by removing such unnecessary terms as "want to", "distinct" and "and simple"!).

Crumbly Writer

@REP

Thus, I would say Yes and No are needed for clarity.

In my case, I'd consider those exceptions, as not everyone does that. Thus you'd only need to add the extra clarification for the exceptions, rather than the general rule.

Rather than saying "He nodded yes", I'd add something like "Bob nodded to indicate he was following the conversation" or "Susan nodded, eager to relate her own experiences". (Though, as usual, there are better ways of showing these responses, rather than actively telling readers what their motivations were.)

That way, you can leave the regular nods and shakes unadorned. ;D

Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

He describes the ship in excruciating detail

That's a different kind of wordy.

That's not extra words to get the point across, but rather simply getting into too much detail or description. I think it's common in SciFi.

That usage (often based on an author's background research showing through, even though it has no direct impact on the story) is similar to flowery literary descriptions (i.e. describing the graffiti on the wall, or the ivy blossoms on the side of the building). Though, in the first, the author typically can't 'kill their darlings' and yank the unnecessary text, while in the second it's a particular narrative style (though, while useful, those are best kept at a minimum) to establish a setting, rather than a constant background prattle for the entire story.

Crumbly Writer

@Tw0Cr0ws

My understanding is that was a conscious choice made in reaction to the conquest and forced religious conversions by the Ottoman Empire so that they could gesture no and be misunderstood as yes while the sword was at their throat.

Thanks. That's a useful explanation I wasn't familiar with. I'm sure it'll come in handy someday (as soon as I write a book about someone from the Ottoman Empire). 'D

Replies:   richardshagrin
Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

Or, for many of us, we use the proper techniques, but repeated complaints (typically from the same readers) force us to double down and make what's expressed with showing explicit by telling readers what's going on


Showing expects a certain level of reading comprehension. That's why children's books are more telling. I would guess it would be a problem for someone whose first language isn't English or they aren't proficient in English.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

Showing expects a certain level of reading comprehension. That's why children's books are more telling. I would guess it would be a problem for someone whose first language isn't English or they aren't proficient in English.

Alas, except for a few, my readers are mostly Americans and fairly well educated. Unforunately, I've learned that since I mix extensive dialogue into my sex scenes, readers tend to skip over them entirely and then bitch about how the 'story makes no sense' when they resume (that's why I've largely stopped writing sex scenes in most of my books). So I'm guessing something similar happens here. My readers are intelligent, but for one reason or another, they skim over the necessary sections and then fumble with what's happening afterwards. :(

Usually, if someone doesn't understand an 'Americanism', or a strange turn of phrase, they'll ask about it, though the internet makes it simple enough to look the answers up yourself, nowadays.

Replies:   PotomacBob
richardshagrin

@Crumbly Writer

the Ottoman Empire

To write car porn you need an Automan, although he doesn't have to be from an Empire. Maybe he is a Baseball Umpire so he is an Automan Umpire.

Replies:   Dominions Son
PotomacBob

@Crumbly Writer

Just curious. How do you know your readers are mostly Americans? Fairly well educated? Tend to skip over dialogue?

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Dominions Son

@richardshagrin

Maybe he is a Baseball Umpire so he is an Automan Umpire.


If he plays baseball, does he have an Autobat.

Crumbly Writer

@PotomacBob

Just curious. How do you know your readers are mostly Americans? Fairly well educated? Tend to skip over dialogue?

Aside from writing about Americans IN American locals, I've learned over time. But mostly, early on, before they yanked the support, I did multiple Google Analytics on my sites. That showed the full range of different countries accessing my sites (a large variety), but the overwhelming majority (well over 92%, though I can't remember the specific number anymore) were Americans.

Generally, I'd get questions when something I said confused non-Americans/non-native English speakers, but most (regardless of background) accept American stories because they've watched enough American TV shows and movies to feel comfortable with the dialogue, common motifs and cliches.

Thus, I specifically target my story towards those reading my stories, and also the 'American' theme of my stories. I make no apologies for it, but I do try to be cautious about providing enough context so readers can figure out what's going on without having to Google details constantly.

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