Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Writing Lesson: Needless To Say

As I worked through the editing process of my book today, I came across one simple, pesky little sentence:

"Needless to say, I was not a happy camper." 


You've got to understand where my writing is going. At this point, my character has already given us a paragraph worth of monologue that depicts her current predicament. We can see clearly from her slumped shoulders, her rolled eyes, and her biting sarcasm that she's not enjoying the situation. Then, smack dab at the end of this descriptive monologue, she tosses, "Needless to say, I was not a happy camper."

Wow. Really? I actually stopped in the middle of my editing session just to stare at the little sentence in disgusted disbelief. I actually wrote that? There?

I wouldn't be surprised to see something like this in one of my first drafts, because nobody ever wrote a good first draft (I repeat: nobody ever), but this is the seventh time through my manuscript. I couldn't believe such a disgusting little bug was still hiding away between the thread and weaving of my other polished paragraphs.

Why did I find this sentence so repulsive? Here are my top two reasons:

1. It was needless to say. Not only was it needless to say, but I actually stated that it was needless to say. Stephanie, dear. If it's needless to say, why say itIt's important for every paragraph, every sentence, and every phrase of your book to have a purpose. Because I just explained how unhappy she was, this sentence has no purpose. It's just extra baggage for my reader to carry. Not only that, but it's aggravating. I don't know about you, but I dislike when my mom tells me something three times over. I get it, mom, I don't need you to explain that to me again. It hurts my pride. It makes me feel unintelligent, like my mom doesn't trust me enough to believe I understood the first time. It's the same with writing. If I repeat something twice (no matter my format or approach), it forces my reader to believe I think they're unintelligent and need to hear something more than once in order to understand. Readers are a lot smarter than we writers give them credit for. Check your writing. Do you have a lot of "couch potato" sentences that exist without purpose? Are you stating things that are needless to say?

2. It's a statement of telling. I have just pounded out a paragraph that shows how my character isn't a happy camper, and then I have to wrap it up by telling my reader? That's enough to make anyone cringe. See, the art of writing is about showing your character's life. Readers don't want to hear her say, "I'm angry," they want to see the anger boiling in her heart. They want to see her clenched jaw, her red face, and her tightened fists. They want to get deeper than the surface. Your character is their friend, after all. Good friends are honest with each other, and deep. Writing isn't about telling a story, it's about painting a picture in the minds of others.

Do you write unnecessary sentences? Do you tell more often than you show? If so, try one of my favorite exercises. Grab some pictures off the internet and describe them by showing your reader the scene. I'll even give you a head start. Take a look at the pictures below, pick one up, and describe it in the comments section. I'll even give you some tips when you're done.

Go ahead, I'll wait.

Way to fend off those pesky sentences!

How do you think you did? How do you plan to improve?


1 comment

  1. It is a late summer evening with the sun pouring in through the closely gathered trees, casting a golden glow on everything it hits. In a small opening with a large tree hangs a tire-swing, looking a bit limp and well used. The ground also, looks well traversed, beaten down by many happy feet.

    That is my quick description of the tire picture.... I could have added more with more time.... ;)