How to Avoid the Curse of Overwriting

How to Avoid the Curse of Overwriting

May 4, 2017 Writing Advice 4

Oh, boy, talk about a tough subject! Just when I think my writing has been trimmed down to the bare minimum, my critiquers/beta readers/editors point out some unnecessary adverb, preposition, or even sentence.

Overwriting is the enemy that all writers will be battling for the rest of their lives. It’s close to impossible to eliminate all “fluff” from your writing without losing your voice, but you need to try to get rid of the extra words in order to make your writing sleeker and easier to read.
Here are a few things that have helped me to avoid the curse of overwriting:

Cut prepositions – How necessary is it for your character to stand UP or sit DOWN? A lot of actions don’t require a preposition because the direction is already inferred by the action verb. Sit, stand, raise, lower, drop, climb, and jump are just a few of the verbs that don’t require prepositions. Try to use verbs that indicate direction so you can eliminate extra prepositions.

Trim adverbs – This is a piece of advice we’ve all heard, but it’s actually not as hard to put into practice as you’d think.

Here’s how I approach it:

With adverb: “Damn you, Bob!” Nick shouted angrily.

Without adverb. “Damn you, Bob!” Nick shouted – OR – “Damn you, Bob!” Nick snarled. – OR – “Damn you, Bob!” Rage contorted Nick’s face.

You can often find verbs that can take the place of adverbs, or you can use the narrative to serve both the purpose of identifying the speaker AND putting their words in context.

Note: there will be times when adverbs are necessary. You can’t get rid of them completely (SEE, adverb!), but you should try to use as few as possible.

Only give the important details – Is the setting and background important to the story? How much does the reader need to know about the room the character’s in, the chair they’re sitting on, or the car they’re driving? Try to limit background details to ONLY what’s important for setting the scene, conveying a tone/mood, or which play a role in the story/characters’ interactions.

Be stingy with adjectives –Does your reader need to know your character is wearing a “garish bright orange fur-lined hooded jumpsuit”? Think about which of those adjectives really matter and eliminate anything else.

These are my four basic approaches when writing. However, this is more focused on the individual sentences rather than the manuscript at large.

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If you want to curb overwriting, the links below have some excellent resources to help you learn more:



4 Responses

  1. Ally Machate says:

    Hey, great article! And thanks for including us in your “further reading” list. 😉

  2. Adan Ramie says:

    Overwriting can be a struggle. Even years after I’ve published (after having beta readers and editors on it several times over), I sometimes find parts I can edit out of my books. I think the important thing to remember is that no writer is perfect, but as long as we’ve done everything we can, we should consider it a win. Thanks for the mood-booster, Andy!

  3. nancyemiller says:

    Thanks for the reminders and the references.

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