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Writer’s Tip #8: Don’t Over-describe

writers tipsWhen you read your story, does it sound off, maybe you can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know you’ve done something wrong?

Sometimes–maybe even lots of times–there are simple fixes. I’ll point them out. They’ll come at you once a week, giving you plenty of time to go through your story and make the adjustments.  Please add comments with your favorite editing fixes.

Limit yourself to two adjectives per noun. If you need more:

  • pick a stronger noun
  • break up the description into several sentences. People can’t keep track of that much detail.

I know, it’s tempting to tell us everything about the colorful, flower-filled, meandering nature path, but don’t give in. If it’s that important, tell me more about the flowers that fill the path, more about what it meanders through–you get the idea.

Robert Louis Stevenson once said, “The difficulty of literature is not to write, but to write what you mean”.  Adjectives are excuses for missing the words that describe what you mean.

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Jacqui Murray is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-fifth grade and creator of two technology training books for middle school. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy midshipman.  She is webmaster for five blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.comEditorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing TeachersIMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to Write Anything and Technology in Education. Currently, she’s working on a techno-thriller that should be ready this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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Jacqui Murray is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-fifth grade and creator of two technology training books for middle school. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy midshipman. She is webmaster for five blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, IMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to Write Anything and Technology in Education. Currently, she’s editing a thriller for her agent that should be out to publishers this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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5 thoughts on “Writer’s Tip #8: Don’t Over-describe

  1. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve seen lately said to break up any sentence that’s between 30 and 40 words in length and that contains more than three commas. In my last edit of Separation of Faith before sending the manuscript to the publisher for copyediting, I ran into more of those sentences that I’d like to admit. And most of them were descriptive in nature. There aren’t any of those in the book now, though, thanks to that great writing tip!

  2. Even two can be too many. Picking a stronger noun is a great suggestion, or turning those adjectives into their own pieces of detail. But you’re right, people don’t really imagine all the things we tell them. They might get a few images a page.

    • When I’m editing a fast-paced scene in my thriller, and feel it’s bogged down, often it’s because of things like too many adjectives. No time to describe the roses when you’re fleeing a mad murderer!

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