What I wanted to be when I grew up was Smart. Intelligent. Articulate.
So every week I read “smart” books and tried to learn “smart” things at school. I got tested for entry into a Gifted & Talented school…didn’t make it based on the kind of smart they were looking for (more science and math, less literature and philosophy.)
And I got picked on for being “snotty, intellectual, superior…” Sure, good grades in academic-writing classes, but not much positive response for the storytelling stuff.
So, yeah, I learned to live in two worlds—-the world of Smart, and the world where I could communicate with my peers without getting sneered at.
Fitting in while expressing your style can sometimes be a challenge.
WHERE WRITING “TOO SMART” FAILS:
1. Info-dumps drags down the pace
We’re talking plot constipation here: there’s so much crammed into a moment you can’t push anything else through and…ick…gross…yuck.
"Hey, I look great because I did all this research and here it is" is no excuse, authors.
If the information doesn’t…
- further the story
- reveal something about the characters
- enhance the setting in a major way
…then CUT IT, stat.
(Yes, I know there are exceptions, particularly a bestselling author whose last name rhymes with “Nancy”, but let’s face it, they are exceptions for a reason.)
2. Scene description that Bewilders
Look at me, look at me, look at me!
Every piece of a location is not of equal importance.
Filling up the page with incidental details obscures the scene.
Our “monkey brains” get easily confused by too many flashing blinking things. I confess I wanna puke every time I stumble across one of those websites where everything’s in motion.
- pick a focus object/plant/food to fully describe
- limit the words spent on the rest of the space
- think like a photographer—-foreground, middle ground, background, and word-it-up accordingly
Call a “table” a “table” unless it’s important we know it’s a fifteenth-century Moroccan Laquered Leather blahblabhlbablhablhb…
And heavy layers work better in the first half of books. Once the action’s cooking, I can’t say I care what anything else looks like beyond a rudimentary hit—-or if something significant’s CHANGED about the space.
***Note: Genre dictates reader expectations. Romance, for instance, seems to require that clothing is described to a much higher degree of detail throughout the entire story. Sci-Fi has wonderful gadgets that may require a certain amount of technical info. So, of course, take genre into consideration.***
Finally *gulps* *has tears in her eyes*
3. The biggest words aren’t the bestest words
“Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.”
Sometimes you need a little help, and that’s okay.
But just picking at $50 word and plunking into the sentence so you can look smarter is a stupid-ass thing to do.
And it will get you beat up on the playground of the marketplace. Because when people have to look up terms, it means they’ve (gasp) STOPPED READING the story.
1. No “plot constipating” by ruining pace with blocks of information
2. Focus the scene, don’t drown us in details
3. Pick the words that fit, not the ones you think will make you look smarter.
-Leonardo da Vinci
-Elizabeth Ellen Everson