Thursday, October 25, 2012

Wordiness: clear as mud

Mooderino wrote a nice post on wordiness, on Tuesday. I wanted to comment, but that's one of many blog pages that won't let me post comments (see this for more info) so I'll write a post of my own instead.

Mooderino pointed out that wordiness has its place, and that it's very useful in setting the pace of a scene. The tricky part being, of course, knowing when is a good time to slow the pace of a story down and when's a good time to let it rip.

Most people will agree that action sequences should move fast -- which for me begs the question: when would you want a slow action scene? Most people would think that highly emotional scenes should go slowly -- should they? How does the impact of emotion change when the scene moves quickly?

These are things you learn by consuming other stories alertly -- with awareness of what the storyteller is doing and how they're doing it -- and through the experience of writing your own stories. Your gut has its own opinion of what feels like a good story, and it's a mix of all the stories you've consumed along with your own creative instincts. Which is then smoothed out by the practice of actually doing it over and over.

Revision comes into play, too, because it can be very enlightening to rewrite a scene to change its pace or tone -- both of which are directly impacted by wordiness or lack thereof. This is on my mind because I just had to do it the other night. I'd written a scene with a recently captured prisoner who had a passive, defeated attitude, but on further thought I realized it would be useful if that prisoner had an interest in cutting a deal. In rewriting it, the dialogue shortened, descriptions dropped out, the verbs turned more active, and overall I hope tension came through rather than passivity.

I didn't necessarily set out to shorten the dialogue, drop descriptions, and active up the verbs; for my gut, that's just a natural consequence of upping the tension in a scene. It took a long time for me to gain that kind of reflex for what I was putting on the page. For years, I just spewed out words and was never quite sure why some things worked and some didn't. My grammar was always decent, but I was guilty of some pretty epic and sprawling ruminations that were about as speedy as molasses. With a lot of practice, the awareness began to seep in.

Have you rewritten scenes to change their pace and tone? How did it impact the language you used?


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I did have to slow down the pace just a little toward the end of my second book as my critique partners said it moved almost too fast.

mooderino said...

I think just being aware that wordiness can have an effect helps you see it, although it's always easier to spot in other people's writing (ain't it always).

Thanks for the namecheck!


Liz said...

I haven't rewritten scenes with that in mind, but in the future I'm going to need to.

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