Tuesday, July 2, 2013

More On Modifiers

As I creatively write on my dusty old keyboard, I'm consistently stuck on just how many wonderful writers overuse modifiers.  They'll laughingly sweep away all cogent suggestions to let the work stand strong on its own and will stubbornly plow ahead with what they envisioned at the end of the road.

Did anyone else vomit reading that paragraph?  It was hard to write, and I felt myself regressing as I composed it.  The problem, of course, was the number of modifiers used.  This seem to be a failing common among many writers, especially those who have little experience with others reading their work.

I remembered this the other day when perusing the work of several friends.  The story ideas themselves are good, but it's hard to get into them all that much since I can't get past the descriptions.  Those descriptions are usually overwrought with STUPENDOUS! AND SUPERLATIVE! ways of telling us what's happening.

To me, this is the mark of one of two things - inexperience or insecurity.  One of the hardest things I've learned is when to let the reader's imagination carry the story.  I can provide a framework, but if I describe every brick in the house, most readers lose interest and move on.  We have to give our readers credit for understanding what we're trying to say without shouting "THIS IS HOW YOU NEED TO UNDERSTAND THIS!!!!!!"

Inexperienced writers simply don't have enough time or critiques under their belt to get this.  That changes over time, but it takes honest people pointing it out to them, hopefully in a gentle way, so that they overcome it.  If we don't let them know, they'll keep on doing it, happy as a clam, and their stuff will continue to treat us like idiots.  An experienced writer knows that you don't have to include the words, "old dusty" when describing a wooden floor from the Middle Ages, nor does the writer have to talk about how the hero "sprinted quickly down the dirt road, deftly pulling the long silver knife from his leather belt."  Experienced writers know this beats the point into the reader's head with a sledgehammer and usually pisses people off.  Instead, as time and critiques provide experience, the words become about how the hero "sprinted down the road while pulling his knife from his belt," as well as how the picture most get from a wooden floor during the Middle Ages is one that's old and dusty.

The insecure writer, on the other hand, is harder to deal with, and Lord knows there are a lot of insecure writers out there.  They don't trust the reader to picture the scene the way the writer intends, so the writer will hand hold them into exactly what is desired.  This treats the reader like a child and shows that the author has no confidence in his or her work.

One of the reasons people read is to use the imagination, and overwrought descriptions rob us of this.  This makes getting into that zombie novel about as much fun as reading the assembly instructions for a home entertainment unit.  So please, edit your stuff and remove the extra modifiers.  Sometimes they're needed, but they can usually be condensed or reworded.  Doing so will make everyone happier.

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