Eloquence Versus Wordiness in Writing

Eloquence Versus Wordiness in Writing

A Lesson by N. C. Matthews

Writing an encyclopedia-length novel to tell a tale is -not- really a good idea. Know when to say when on word count.


Eloquence Versus Wordiness


As I have often pointed out, and am so fond of doing so, you are not the next Anne Rice or the next J. K. Rowling or J. R. R. Tolkien.  I have made it very clear throughout my articles that in order for you to be a really great writer, you are going to have to first, find your own writing style.  That means stop trying to write like Anne Rice or Rowling or Tolkien or King or Cook or any of the other writing 'greats.'  Next, you are going to have to practice.

Now, for all those out there who seem to think that a book has to be a certain length and that you simply have to write several thousand, or even several hundred thousand, extra words of "filler" to make it a certain length, then I am afraid you are in for a very rude awakening.  Unless you are the world's greatest writer, and trust me, you are not, and you start filling your pages up with a bunch of "filler" words that do absolutely nothing for your story except up the word count, then your book is doomed to be headed for the recycling bin.

In all my years as a bookworm, I have come across exactly ONE writer who wrote so eloquently that I gobbled up practically every word she ever wrote.  And despite this, even I have actually done the dreaded "skipped a few pages" (and in some cases, entire chapters) on some of her novels.  So if you are one of those who it takes 50,000 or so words (or heaven forbid, even more) to write a single chapter, then you stopped being eloquent in your writings about 40k words back and stepped over into just flat being wordy.

You may wonder why being 'wordy' is so bad.  Remember in one of my articles when I said that as a writer, your job is to get your readers interested in your story and write in such a way that they actually want to read every word you write instead of skipping through whole chunks of text?  Well, I hate to break it to you, but I don't care how great of a writer you actually are, if it takes you tens of thousands of words to explain an event that most others could tell in 1/4 that many words, then you have done the one thing that you NEVER want to do with your readers, and that is O-V-E-R-W-H-E-L-M them.

There's a reason why writing teachers hammer the K.I.S.S. acronym into budding young authors.  That's not to say that you have to dumb yourself down so much that even the 8th grade drop-out could read the text and have no problem following the storyline.  But as a writer, you have to remember that just because you speak two or three different languages and have a vocabulary to rival Merriam and Webster, not everyone out there is going to have that same education and intellectual level.  Now if you are writing for that very small, selective group like yourself, then feel free to take a few million words to tell a story that 99% of the other writers could have hammered out in 75k words or less.

However, if you are actually wanting to make it as a writer and want others to take your craft seriously, then you are going to have to curb your enthusiastic pounding of the keys and take a step back.  Like I said, if you are overwhelming your readers with the sheer number of words that don't really -say- anything, then you are going to eventually alienate your readers.  After all, no one wants to pick up a book for entertainment purposes and have to carry a dictionary around with them to decipher half the words in the text.  Likewise, no one wants to be made to feel stupid because they didn't understand 90% of what was going on in the storyline because all the words kept getting in the way.

You remember the old saying, "I can't see the forest for all the trees"?  Well, if it takes you a million plus words to tell a story, and I don't care HOW intricate of a tale it is, then people will get "lost" in the words.  Sure, you want your audience to get lost in your book, but you want them to get lost in the story, not  bogged down by so many words that they forget what the story is actually about.  If it's taking you more than a paragraph to get a character through the door because you think all those words sound good, then congratulations.  You just overwhelmed your reader, made them feel stupid, had them all give a collective groan, and then they promptly started skipping pages to get to 'the good stuff.'  And if you are one of the really, really wordy types that it takes dozens and dozens of pages of useless words to get to 'the good stuff' then you just lost your audience completely.  They just tossed your book out with the other recyclables.  To make matters worse, they all got on their blogs and started blogging about this author who wrote this book that said absolutely NOTHING and it was so freaking long and boring that after the first few pages they gave up trying to read the stupid thing and just tossed it away.  By the way, they will suggest to others that they not bother wasting the time it takes to try to plow through the text.

The thing to take away from this article is that you want to keep your readers interested in what you are writing.  Bottom line, just tell the tale.  Don't think that the book has to be a certain word count.  Don't add a bunch of words just to get the word count up.  And if you are one of those writers who likes the sound of your own voice on paper, then be advised that the vast majority of readers are not going to have the same appreciation for your wordiness that you do.  If you want people to actually read what you have written, then you need to cut out every unnecessary word.  It shouldn't take any writer a few thousand words to get a character through a door.  No one wants to read thirty pages of ramblings about how a character feels.  There is absolutely no reason under the sun to recount a character's entire life from conception to death in agonizing detail.  People are not going to be chomping at the bit to read it.  If you can't recount a short story of two children playing in the front yard in under 25k words, then you might want to reconsider your ventures as a writer. 

Remember to Keep It Simple Stupid!  Otherwise, your readers are going to use that massive chunk of bound text as a stepping-stool for their toddler.


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Posted 5 Years Ago

You tried to read Anathem, too, did you? :)

Or I suppose this could be inspired by people trying to write like Anne Rice and not even being as interesting as she was (which isn't much) in describing (for several pages) all the iron lace and bougainvillea... Even an architect with a fondness for the South would have said "Enough!" after the first eight paragraphs.

I get a lot od advice on this site about how I should bulk up my fiction by describing the entire last 100 years of back history of a setting before getting into the story (and yes, I blogged about that) or how I should give full physical stats on a character in the paragraph where they're first introduced... I blame high school English teachers for this. (I WAS a high school teacher briefly - I'm allowed.) They so overemphasize the fancy words and extreme details as something to be emulated that their students - who are not learning how to do it RIGHT, only to do it at all - end up making a complete mess of their own writing in the belief that more is always better.
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N. C. Matthews
N. C. Matthews

My pen name is Nicola Chey Matthews. I have been writing for over 28 years now. I first began writing when I was only five years old. I wrote my first novel at the age of 13, and had attempted 2 ot..