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Title: When Less is More
Bio: Winner of the Al Blanchard Award, the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold for Mystery, and a finalist for the Claymore and Daphne Du Maurier Awards, my debut novel, A TWIST OF HATE, will be released by Five Star/Gale-Cengage in summer 2015.
Permission Granted to include post in IWSG Guide to Publishing and Beyond.
The most important piece of advice for any writer just starting on the path comes from Elmore Leonard:
IF IT SOUNDS LIKE WRITING,
BELIEVE THE HYPE, LESS REALLY IS MORE
Description, no matter how well-wrought, should either move the story forward or reveal character. Skip the filler and the purple prose. In other words, don’t sound “writerly.” Readers’ attention should be on your story not on your writing. Don’t let this happen to you!
The tall golden sunflowers undulated as gently as a mast in the breeze as the pale silver mist of the sky fell onto the verdant landscape.
Instead, omit needless words:
The sunflowers undulated beneath the silver sky.
This second example is a simple image, easily visualized. Your landlocked reader isn’t roped into comparing a sunflower to a mast, or distracted trying to figure out what constitutes a verdant landscape (rolling hillocks? green meadows?). By allowing your readers to use their own experiences to fill in the blanks, you draw them in. Your story becomes personal and memorable.
Does this mean you should never use metaphors, similes, or beautiful language? Of course not! Let your imagination soar, but make sure every word matters to your story.
DOWN WITH ADVERBS? NOT SO FAST!
We’ve all heard it: adverbs are anathema. Let your verbs do the work for you. Not walked slowly but plodded. Not ate voraciously but gorged.
But as with all WRITING RULES™, this one was made to be broken. The question to ask yourself is, if you remove the adverb, does the meaning of the sentence change to something other than what you intended? If you can remove the adverb without effect, leave it out.
Adverb NOT Necessary
The drug kingpin successfully evaded the authorities for years.
The drug kingpin evaded the authorities for years.
Tom sneezed and nearly sent the car off the cliff.
Tom sneezed and sent the car of the cliff.
If you’re unsure about a scene, cut all qualifiers. Add back only what is required to tell your story.
You say you want to learn to write prose that propels a story forward and hooks a reader? Repeat after me:
LESS IS MORE.