I am often an overly-wordy person. Chances are you knew that. ;-P Not so much in day-to-day conversation (unless I've just finished watching a Dickens miniseries or something, in which case I might be talking like Seth Pecksniff), but I tend to write whole books in emails and letters and comments. The same with my stories. I have a dreadful habit of saying more than I need to-- more than is necessary.
I was reminded of this once again last night, when I picked up a book I hadn't revisited for a long time and started reading it; completely spur of the moment. I was struck by the simplicity of the language, the stark beauty of the detail, the wonder of conveying so much in so few words.
I will come by train. I will wear a yellow bonnet. I am plain and tall.
Tell them I sing.
The above letter is, in my opinion, probably the greatest in all of literature. It's short, simple, completely guileless. The few words speak profound volumes. It could not be improved upon with more detail because there is no room for improvement. It's perfection.
Reading Sarah, Plain and Tall again reminded me of the power of words. You don't need to use so many, bogging down the reader in dull descriptions and redundancy just to fill up space and make your book longer. Don't say what doesn't need to be said. Say what you want to get across, try to convey what you want the reader to feel. As a writer friend of mine once said, "I don't need to know what the drapes look like."
(Unless, of course, we're talking about Gone With the Wind. Then it's kind of important.)
I am soooooo prone to fall into this trap of wordiness! Seriously, when I look back on some of my old notebooks and read my scribblings, I laugh out loud at the absurdity. (I went through a phase of trying to talk like Jane Austen-- it didn't go too well.) Even now, I'll struggle with indulging in my love of words and trying to cram as many as I possibly can into a single sentence. I think this is partly why I've had so much difficulty in the past finishing my projects; I'm constantly trying to make it more than it has to be. I don't like reading overly-wordy books; so I don't want to write overly-wordy books. I just want the reader to feel what I feel, to somehow see the story as I see it.
Words are beautiful. I'm not saying you should confine your composition to pronouns and boring verbs-- not at all! But there is a fine line between what the reader needs to know, and what doesn't really matter. When you add too much of the latter, it weighs down the story. This is not good, people. Unless you're Charles Dickens, and then you can somehow pull it off. If you stuff your novels full of irrelevant words just for the sake of words, chances are the reader will toss it in the other direction. At least, I would.
Less is more. There is so much you can reveal through just a few words. It's an art, and that's what makes it so beautiful.
"Yes, I loved your papa's letters," said Sarah softly. "I loved what was between the lines most."
"What was between the lines?" Caleb asked.
Sarah looked at me when she answered.
"His life," she said simply. "That was what was between the lines."
"Papa's not always good with words," I said.
"Sometimes, yes," said Sarah, laughing. "But when I read your Papas letters, I could see this farm, and the animals and the sky. And you. Sometimes, what people choose to write down on paper is more important than what they say."