April 29, 2010

The self-conscious desire to over-explain

Something I have the tendency to do whether it be fiction, blogging or even in academic writing is to reiterate the same point over and over again. Maybe I've done it on here, but I know in my private blog and my Madrid ones I am guilty as charged, and I do this certainly in my fiction - but I just don't realise it while writing and editing.

Repetition is fortunately one of the easiest faults to cure. It takes a couple of proof readers to look through the text and point out that I really don't need to say the same thing two, three, or four times. But why? Am I cursed with the memory of a goldfish or what? I thought a bit about this, and I think I understand the cause behind my need to hammer my point home until people vomit on the point I'm making (ok that maybe was a bit of an over-exaggeration). The reason, certainly in my case anyway, is insecurity.  I say something with subtlety in my writing, but self-conscious about whether I make that point I feel the need to state the obvious. Example:

"I glance at the stall on the street corner selling cheap imitations: a substitute for the real thing." 

There is no point to the second half of this sentence after the colon; it's just another way of saying something I have already said. Sometimes this can be something as obvious as saying the same thing in a different way, or as "subtle" as explaining something that should show itself through the action that is happening in the scene. An example I made up on the spot for demonstration purposes:

"Jane felt the gust of wind come in through the window, her skin bubbled up in goosebumps. She was cold." 

This is still pretty simple but it gets the point across. We know that Jane was cold as this is expressed by her biological reaction "her skin bubbled up in goosebumps".

Asides from insecurity, I also do this over-explaining because I am going for emphasis, but again, why do I need to say it twice when I can say it once effectively? Maybe this will only be something I can truly get rid off as my confidence grows and the less self-conscious my writing becomes or I just need to train my editing eye to notice this unnecessary repetition (along with clichés, passive voice, adverbs, POV issues etc).

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