By Deb Haggerty, @DebHaggerty
As an editor, I read—a lot! And I find I get impatient with certain contrivances authors tend to overdo. I realize part of what we do as writers is our voice, but I also realize part is trying to impress or to ensure our readers get what we’re trying to impart. And while our vision is important, we need to remember the best part of reading is employing our imaginations—visualizing the place and time and characters. We need to give our readers the latitude to imagine their own scenes and be drawn in by our words.
One of my prime irritants is over-description. We used to be taught the Rule of Three—use adjectives in trios. This rule is now archaic as readers would rather read action than flowery words. You may choose to use three words, but two are better, and one good word is the best. And over-description leads to telling rather than showing what is happening in the scene. Which is better? “He had sparkling-blue eyes with long eyelashes almost like a girl’s.” Or, “She adored gazing into his sparking blue eyes fringed with long dark lashes.”
All my authors know two of my pet peeves are the words “it” and “that.” I dislike these words because in many cases, they indicate a writer who is taking shortcuts rather than finding a good way to express their sentences. Using “it” often makes a reader pause to try to figure out what “it” represents. Use “it” too often and a reader will get confused, irritated, and quit reading. And that brings me to “that.” “That” is an overused word that can often be omitted. (You can often omit the word “that.”) See the difference?
The best advice I can give a writer is read their words from their reader’s point of view. Did you repeat a phrase or a concept too many times? Readers are smart—you don’t need to make a point over and over. Are you using description for description’s sake—or to enhance the action? Ensure description adds to the story and doesn’t detract from your plot. If in doubt, leave the extra words out! Too much description and readers will skip entire parts of your book or worse, stop reading.
Think of poor Snoopy the writer, “It was a dark and stormy night …” Instead—”The storm loomed over the pitch black night ….” Your goal is to keep the reader wanting the next words, paragraph, page, and chapter.
I wish you good writing and a Merry Christmas!
Deb Haggerty is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Elk Lake Publishing Inc., a traditional, royalty-paying, Christian publisher that “Publishes the Positive.” As an author, blogger, and professional speaker, she’s been published in over twenty books with fifty-plus articles. Deb, her husband, Roy, and Coki the Dog live in Plymouth, MA.