Monday, March 30, 2015

Less is More

    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.

         Dear Jacob,

      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."


  1. First of all: YOUR NEW HEADER. Like what even is this gorgeousness.

    Second: Dawww, this post! It's great. I personally would prefer having a super-long comment -ahem- but I understand what you mean. It's also encouraging to think that you don't have to write just for the sake of filling space that you think needs to be filled.

    And oh my word, your redone blogger profile introduction!! Hearts it:)

  2. Olivia,
    Firstly: Thank you! Yeah, I try to leave the same design up for a while, but then I'll get a fresh wave of nostalgia and longing and just re-do it again. I can't help it. :-) I must say, I'm very proud of my work this time. I can't stop looking at it. It's kind of pathetic when you keep clicking on your own blog just to admire the way it looks. ;-P

    And secondly: I didn't mean I was going to start making comments shorter! No, that would be too tall an order. You'll just have to put up with my long-windedness. ;-P


  3. Ohhh EMMA! You're knew look and everything! I always DROOL when you do something new. It's lovely!!!! :-) You're really into the Georgian mood right now, aren't you? :-P And I also love the new pictures on your side-bar and your background... *sigh* I do enjoy a good blog look. :-) One thing though: the right side of your header is hidden - you need to do a tiiiny bit of width adjusting. I'm probably the only one who notices those kind of things, because it's hardly noticeable.

    On to the actual post now... IT'S SO TRUE, less is more. I loved this post. I was nodding and saying, 'Yep' all the way though. :-)
    In my children's books I never bother with too much description - if I do describe things it's blunt and upto the point like in the letter: 'I'm plain and tall.' (I REALLY want to re-read Sarah Plain and Tall now, by the way, I haven't read it since forever.)
    In my current book, however, I confess I describe LOADS. :-P I think I do too much - much too much. But *I* personally enjoy descriptions of 'drapes' (haha) and stuff like that in some books (Like my beloved GWTW) - some books can afford it, I think. Other books can't (normally the popular books can't.)

    Bravo, you worded this all so well, darling!

    ~ Naomi

    PS And I knew you didn't mean you'd make your comments shorter. I wouldn't have let you, anyway. :-)

    PS Short version of this comment:
    Swell blog look.
    Your post is so TRUE.
    (See, sometimes more is more. :-))

  4. Naomi,
    Your comment really made me smile. :-) But then, they always do!

    I really have a tendency to over-word things-- which can be a good thing sometimes, but I find it doesn't work too well. But yes, descriptions can be so scrumptious. I am finding, though, that my personal preference leans more towards the simple. :-)

    YES YOU MUST READ THE SARAH PLAIN AND TALL BOOKS. I read the second two yesterday, all at once. They just reach in to stroke your soul.

    Haha, how did you guess? ;-P Yes, we're in a very Georgian mood here. (The soundtrack of Belle and The Duchess, as well as the prospect of Hornblower in the near future, may have something to do with it.) I'm SO happy with my new blog look. I can't stop admiring it. (Don't you think the background looks very colonial-period?)

    And thanks for pointing that out-- I fixed it. You're right, I never would have noticed. Leave it to Naomi to notice something like that. :-)


  5. Yes, yes, yes, a thousand times yes.
    This was great. And something I've noticed myself! Awhile back I realized how some stories (whether movies or books) would give you LOTS of information. But then I noticed some of my favorite stories left you wanting more. And I've kept it as my personal reminder that it's better that your readers yearn for MORE and not LESS! :)

  6. Natalie,
    EXACTLY! I'm glad we agree! :-) I've noticed the same thing-- I'm more drawn to simpler, more roughly sketched stories, rather than big elaborate detail-upon-detail tomes. Thanks so much for your comment.

    (And I totally read the first sentence in Jane Bennet's voice. ;-P)

  7. Emma,
    Haha, I didn't even realize I quoted that.... I had to google it to remember what it was from. You can tell it's been awhile since I saw the 05 version hahaha. :)

  8. (I actually read your marvelous post a couple days ago, but wasn't able to comment at the time. ;)) It is marvelous!

    And your new header! Ohhhh, your new header!!! I'm still gasping with the gorgeousness..... (Have I ever told you just what an elegant blog you have here, Emma??? ;))

  9. Emma why are you all so amazing at blogger backgrounds and headers?!?! It's LOVELY!!!! I love it muchly... I need to do one.. My blog needs to be done up for autumn XD
    See you round!
    Sorry about the lateness of reply to your email my friend. We're moving and at present I am writing this on my phone :-)


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