Overwriting. What’s that? It was one of the criticism leveled by the judges at some of this year’s Wadadli Pen entries. It’s when the writer becomes too wordy, telling instead of showing, heavy on the exposition instead of allowing things to reveal themselves.
I’m currently reviewing/revising a story of mine that’s already been through the ringer a time or two, a reminder that it often doesn’t happen in a single draft…or a single year. I workshopped it about a year ago and did the most extensive revisions after that. I subsequently asked one of the writers from that workshop to take another look at it. One of the notes I got from her is instructive: “originally [character x] and [character y]’s sparse but direct dialogue is filled with natural tension that occurs between adults and teens. In this new rewrite, that on point cadence is compromised with ‘telling’ phrases…as opposed to just ‘showing’…Where, in the original draft, such explanations weren’t needed because we could infer these things for ourselves through the words.”
She’s perfectly right, and I know how it happened too. Some of the notes I’d received in the workshop had made me keenly aware of the cultural rift between me and other workshop participants. So many of the question marks they had had to do with things that made perfect sense to me in the context of my culture but were causing them to scratch their heads and question the sensitivity of a character I wanted to be sympathetic. I yielded to the pressure (mostly internal) to explain her; in fact, too many of the shifts in the narrative were born of that compulsion.
It’s a reminder to self (and to you, I hope…’s why I’m sharing it) to take the workshop process as a guide not gospel, to trust the story you’re telling…and show don’t over tell, over explain, over write. And remember don’t take that as gospel either. Artistes colour outside the lines.
As with all content on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, and Oh Gad!). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about Wadadli Pen and my books. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks.