- Jun 6, 2001
Originally posted by shawng1
"Less is more." That's a good rule in any writing, IMHO. I can hear my Homiletics Professor now in his deep Alabama accent and aristocratic bearing, "Remove the verbosity, brothers. Every word should count." Detail that advances a point is great. Detail that touches on something that never gets mentioned again and doesn't serve any purpose is extraneous and should be removed.
Note, that's a general rule. Obviously it doesn't apply 100%. But I find myself skim reading novels as often as reading them these days because authors think that character development on characters one will never see again is useful. IMHO, it isn't. I know a lot of Literature Departments today would crucify me for that statement. But I say "tough." Develop the characters that matter to the plot or to a scene, don't spend 2 pages telling me about how someone who's nothing more than filler reacts. Same goes with background. Once it's set, it doesn't need to be reset, unless its a crucial detail someone could forget.
This is another source of conflict for me. I can remember, particularly when I was younger, putting done a book disgusted because of what seemed like meaningless verbosity. However, some of these works are considered great pieces of literature. Consider Faulkner's "Light in August". Do I really need 8 or 9 paragraphs describing the trees (willows? I can't remember) in the moonlight as seen from a bed room window which has a slightly streaked panes and a layer of dust around the edge of the sill that has lain there undisturbed since some long ago time referenced only by some childhood event? Yet following such a description I find out in a short (almost throw-away) line that, oh by the way, the teenage protagonist is pregnant.
Now admittedly it has been over a decade since I read "Light in August" so my details my be a bit rusty, but to me it was a case were verbosity became a distraction. For an example of an English author, perhaps Dickens could be accused of the same thing.
However, despite the many cases I can recall where such "meangingless" description distracted or bothered me, I still believe that in many cases it can strenghthen, rather than dilute, a work.
For example, a character which may not be essential to the story can play a role in establishing mood or in setting a scene. Some descriptions of actions or events can help with pacing. Sometimes the description of non-essential characters you to set up a better contrast with main characters.
Shawng1 points out that the "less is more" rule shouldn't apply 100% of the time. What I am trying to work out is, if it doesn't apply all the time and added color can be useful, then how much it should apply? When are these excursions from the main story useful and when are they simply distracting?