How Much Is Too Much?

Tips From My Inner Editor

Do I need to be careful of yet another overdone cliché?
I’ve noticed that when something--words, situations, plots, etc. are used too much in too many books they become a cliché in the writing industry. If I study the markets and read the books that are published, I can see these cliché patterns.

When I first wrote the sex/love scenes in Knight of Dreams, I just wrote it the way I felt it. And my crit partners said I needed to add the characters names several more times throughout the passage. So I did. But was that the right thing to do? No, it wasn't.

Okay, so maybe this is an ongoing debate. But here's the way I see it as best when I'm reading a book or story.

When in deep POV, that is revealing story/character through a character’s head, don't repeat the character’s name over and over. Once you establish the name, then you don’t need to say it again and again. Everyone knows what this means from examples in your own writing. So just keep in mind that it can pull a reader out of the story and back to the realization that they are reading, rather than immersing them inside the story, which is the goal. This goes for all deep POV writing, but especially inside a sex/love scene. Just be careful and don’t use the character’s name every other sentence, or even paragraph, if you are in the same passage or scene.

And here’s another-- This I know, but I see it especially in new writers work. I call it the ‘Laundry List’ or the ‘Rambling Writer’ syndrome. You know this one. It’s when we give each nuance of detail of a room or a setting, and even over describe a character. Or write on and on about unimportant events.
Less is best.

It’s not necessary unless you are creating an unknown or alien world for your character. And you still need to use care when doing so. The purpose of description is to give the reader a sensory grounding in a scene and that is all. So be careful with overusing description.

I’m not big on expository passages though. I like my stories to get right to the point and keep on going. In fact, I’ve had to practice layering in more description and detail to my stories. However, I’ve seen other writers rambling on and on saying much more than is necessary for the scene. Grounding your reader is the key to all good fiction writing. And it just doesn’t happen if you overwrite.

I edit out overwritten passages and too much detailed description. And I try not to repeat my viewpoint character’s name too many times. As a reader, I already got it-- when the writer revealed the name of the character in the first sentence. Occasionally I'm sure it's okay, but I say let us be careful with overuse of names, even if it is debatable. Oh yeah, I did change my scene back to the way it was written originally.

Write Well All,



Catherine Bybee said...

You know, Kaye... I often read your blogs and have to wonder... hmmm, this woman really knows her stuff... What publisher does she work for? LOL

I agree that the reader is smart and can pick things up the first time you say it... I've often found myself reading a book and saying, "Hm, didn't the writer already write that?"
Which of course pulls me out of whoever's POV I'm in. Either way, well said...

And who is it you work for again? grin.

Shelley Munro said...

Very good advice. The only exception I can give you for the name thing is when I'm writing m/m. My editor is always putting names in for reader clarity. Sometimes all the "he's" make things confusing.

I recently read a book with a shopping list of the contents in a room. I swear it went on for almost a full page. Like you, I tend to be spare in the description/setting department and have to work to color my pages during the editing process. During the first go-round my characters live in this white box!

Great post, Kaye.

Debs said...

I also don't like it if the character's name is in the ms too much. It's one of the thinks I'm very aware of when editing.

I tend to do the opposite and write too little description in the first draft. I'm a reader who doesn't like too much of it, but then when writing I have to remember to let the reader know what's in my head when it comes to scenary, rather than just let them imagine all of it.

Linda Banche said...

Sometimes I read long passages of dialog and I can't tell who's talking. In that case, we need some indication of who the speaker is.

I, for one, like description. The location is part of the story, and I think there has to be enough description, especially in an historical, to bring the reader into the story. Otherwise, you're writing a generic story that can take place anywhere, at any time. If that's what you want, fine. Just be aware.

Kaye Manro said...

Thanks for stopping by all!

And thanks to Catherine for thinking of me in that way. I Agree about getting pulled out of a story by repetition.

You are so right, Shelley. Sometimes there needs to be clarification as to who is doing the talking. This also happens when three or more characters are in a scene together. I also hate those shopping lists found in some books! My point exactly.

Debs, I have to layer in after I write the first draft too.

Linda, good points all. I think writing actually needs a balance. I've seen some manuscripts with way too much information and others with not enough. And dialogue-- if the characters are well developed by the author, we as readers shouldn't have a problem understanding who is doing the talking in a straight dialogue scene, don't you think?

There are several methods to show who's dialoguing without the constant use of Jane said, Joe said. But that's fodder for another blog post!

All these points are of course debatable. And a writer just has to find his/her own best way of showing her story.

Christina Phillips said...

I completely agree about it being unnecessary to add the pov character's name in the middle of a scene (except for clarity as mentioned) it really pulls me out of the story too.

And I'm not good at describing the location, I have to remind myself the reader needs to know where my characters are as I see them inside my head, otherwise they exist in this sterile bubble!!

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Helen Hardt said...

Hi Kaye -- I agree about description. I've been known to skim over those long-winded paragraphs. On the other hand, don't discount setting. A sentence or two here or there is necessary to ground the reader. I tend to write like Shelley. Very sparse at first, lots of dialogue, then I go back and sprinkle in action and setting during revision.

As for name dropping, I agree there, too. Too much is too much. Try writing a menage, though. Like Shelley's m/m, they can be pronoun nightmares, LOL! It's all a matter of balance. Great post!


Cari Quinn said...

Another great post, Kaye. So often when I visit, I find myself in complete agreement with you. :)

I skim description as a reader and almost always have to go back to layer it in as a writer. I focus more on dialogue, because that's what I love. ;) And I definitely agree on minimizing character names whenever possible. Terrific advice!

Suzanne said...

This is all so helpful. Thanks for posting.


Sarah Simas said...

Hi Kaye! I really enjoyed your post and took the tips to heart. LOL I swear when I get my MS finished, I'm going to have a laundry list of things to check!

I'm glad you offer up such sage wisdom. I know I appreciate your efforts! :o)