Am I thinking too hard about my writing?

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Am I thinking too hard about my writing?

Hi all,
So a lot of people have told me that there are places in my work where my use of language is a bit heavy or needlessly complex.
For example, until recently I have never simply written 'he said'. It has always been something like 'He barked with a commanding edge in his voice.'and people have expressed their concern that it start to break up the writing and make it seem choppy.
So I would like to know how often you think complex strings of language should be used, and if you think that it has a certain place where it belongs?

Thank you

Hi Jo, I complicate my writing. Some poor sods don't know what I'm talking about. But it has its uses sometimes. Think about every aspect of your writing but don't ever let it put you off. Edit edit edit. Just keep writing and weed out phrases that need your reader to do too much work. 'She was severely delayed.' 'She was late.' Less words do it, you know the drill. That doesn't mean writing has to lose depth or become simplified. Complexity can come from a simple line carefully placed. Look at the Bronte's - Emily packs some dense sentences in her novels and she's a classic.


'For example, until recently I have never simply written 'he said'. It has always been something like 'He barked with a commanding edge in his voice.'

Hi JOswick, this is a good sentence to have provided as an example.  'He said' is preferable.  However I can see that the writer in you wants to convey that the man in question was somehow stressed but in control of a potentialy urgent situation. 

There is a very hackneyed but no less valuable phrase that's trundled out ad nauseum to aspiring/improving writers; slay your darlings.  In other words, steel yourself to pare back your writing by removing things that you might really like for the sake of better, slicker prose.

The trick here - your job as the writer - regarding the above phrase, is to allow the reader to see/understand that the words that the man spoke would have been said in the way that you have described (told) to us.  This is accomplished by you creating the circumstances for this level of reader perception within the narrative.  No other way to say this - show your readers how the man would have spoken rather than telling them how he spoke. 

Keep going.


I often find myself thinking that I may not be explaining this and that part of the dialogue well enough. It really does add an extra dimension to character interaction when you do... at least that's how I feel. It does need to be offset by simplicity, though. Depth when depth is required.

Buenos ding dong diddly dias!

This is an extremely valuable debate. There's so much to learn here. I've always believed in three layers within writing - the words, the sentences and the plot. Your words aren't necessarily the most important parts. As Scratch mentioned it's about the circumstances - the wonder's in the ether, the unsaid. I struggle to recreate both of these but the main one is the plot I struggle with. You read the Bible and the actions of entire nations can represent the tribulations of one individual. You cross the Red Sea and there's baptism. 40 years in the wilderness can be seen to be a human lifetime etc. We are involved in a wonderful business, one we all learn more about every day.


Hi JOswick. I hope I can help with these problems, although I not a professional by any means.

I think using "he said, she said" is ok. There is no problem with it.

When you use dialogue you supply the reader with an enormous amount of information which is then completed by saying "he said / she said". When you try to use phrases like "'He barked with a commanding edge in his voice" all you are doing is increasing the amount of information that you are trying to give the reader. You aren't changing what they have just read, you aren't completing the information, you are giving them new things to think about. This makes the reading slower, it makes the process of information slower, and it eventually just becomes white noise (or white page? whatever is the reading equavelent of white noise...). It becomes empty words. Basically, you can just omit all sentences like this. These sentences use up time and space, but they don't give the reader anything that is useful enough to enhance the story.


When people say "show, don't tell" they don't mean "replace every he said with '"he barked with a commanding edge in his voice." What they want is for you to use phrases like:

"...Blah...Blah..." he said.There was a commanding edge to his voice that was something something."

The second part of this sentence is when you show the reader how your character is saying these words.


Or you can do what Evelyn Waugh did. He only every really used "He said / She said," or "he asked," or really simple phrases like that. He made sure that the style of dialogue was different for each character so the reader knows if someone is barking with a commanding edge or if Sebastien is being coy. Included in the basic descriptions and actions of every character is all the information the reader needs to process how the character is speaking.


I hope this helps!

Good luck, and I'll try to have a look at some of your writing to get a feel for it.

A guy who writes technical books for Mathematicians is not going to use the same kind of language if he was trying to write a book to teach math for an average joe, who doesn't have any expertise in the subject.

You see where I'm going with this?

It's all about knowing who is your target audience. You need to adapt your language according to your niche. If you are going to write a novel for 12 year olds, I'm quite sure that you're going to try to make your language as simple and concise as possible.