Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Can You Ever Write Too Much?


Whenever you're writing a scene you have to keep a sense of proportion. If the story concerns two young lovers, focusing on one set of parents for a whole chapter may give the impression that they are important to the story. If thwy're not, the reader will spend the rest of the book wondering why you wrote so much about them.

Then there's the question of how much of your research you should put into the book. It may be tempting to relate all you have discovered about 13th century nuns because a character works at the historic site of one, but unless it helps tell the rest of the story, you'd better leave most of it out.

Science is always a problem for SF writers. How much to put in and what to leave out can be a tricky decision. If you're writing 'Hard SF' (or technoporn as it's sometimes called), then you need to put as much as possible in as your readers will enjoy it...if only so they can pull it apart and argue with you at the next SF conference you attend. If you're not writing that kind of SF, then you'll have to be careful.

With criminal investigations there can be a lot of science, but you have to make sure that it doesn't overwhelm the reader. Don't put a three page summary of how phone triagulation works, for instance. You're writing a novel, not a field manual for the police.

There are times, however, when the overuse of technical terms can be useful, such as when you are trying to show someone to be a geek, or obsessed with something. Through their dialogue, both external and internal, you can show this obsession as they talk about their pet hobby or interest. It's especially useful in comedy writing and is used to great effect by Tom Holt.

In short, be careful with the information you give to the reader. If it's relevant to the plot or the characters, fine. If not, let it gather dust and then use it when a reader questions your use of terminology at a conference.

See you on Friday.


Milo James Fowler said...

I hate info-dumping as a reader, yet I struggle with it as a writer. But less is usually more, and wordiness is far-removed from godliness.

Jessica L. Buike said...

Great post! I have a problem with "word diarrhea" as well... I think a lot of writers struggle to figure out when is enough and when is too much in terms of verbage. Anywho, love the post and linked to it on my blog today:

Martin Willoughby said...

Milo: Me too. It's a hard lesson to learn and beta readers can make a difference.

Jessica: Part of the problem is mimimum word counts. And thanks for the link.