Tuesday, June 30, 2020

It’s so easy to over-describe

by Rick Blechta

This post is sort of a riff off Tom’s post from yesterday.

We all have to learn to write. I don’t mean putting words together to form sentences — although many haven’t mastered that skill if you look at social media for more than two minutes; I’m talking about writing shapely fiction, stuff that someone might actually want to read.

There certainly is a talent factor. A lucky few are born writers, great right out of the box, some just need to be guided along a bit, but most of us need to be taken by the hand and helped…a lot.

However, in the end, every writer has to lock themselves away and wrestle their prose into submission, no matter how many creative writing classes they’ve taken, how many writers (editors, publishers, agents) have looked at their work and commented. Like any creative act writing is a learned thing. We each have to discover the right road — or try to.

Fortunately, writers can and should keep progressing, honing skills to tell better stories in better ways.

The reason I’m writing about this comes about from watching the Mantalbano TV series from Italy. I read all the books before I began delving into the show — which is quite good by the way — and I am amazed at how accurately I’d imagined what Sicily looks like only from reading Camillieri’s novels and short stories. I’ve never been to Sicilia and never been farther south in Italy than Rome, so I had very little to go on other than what the author put in.

After watching two episodes of Mantalbano, I went back to look over the first novel in the series (The Shape of Water). It was quite amazing to see how few words Camillieri spends on description. I mean, there’s almost nothing when you consider how unique this island is. But each word, each phrase expended in description is just enough, no more, no less.

This morning, looking over something I wrote on the weekend, I’m, well, mortified how much verbiage I waste in unneeded description — and I’ve self-congratulated myself on making my prose more economical, more sparse, lean and mean, if you will.


Seems I’ve got more work to do. The road to (writers’) hell is indeed paved with adverbs — and nouns and adjectives and subordinate clauses and digressions and… 

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