Being wordy can create awkward sentences, but when carefully crafted, some sentences actually leap from the page because being wordy is what is actually needed.
There is a lot of debate about the use of big, flowery words in literature and how appropriate they may be within the context of the piece, but many critics sometimes forget that writing is all about expression and the freedom of a writer to express him or herself in whichever way they want. That’s what makes every writer unique, after all.
There are no hard and fast rules that state that big or literary words can’t be used in fiction, because they can, as long as they’re not over used and they’re placed within the context of the story. For example, flowery words that most people have never heard of before wouldn’t really sit too well in a dark, gritty action thriller and likewise, the use of raw, street-style descriptive words wouldn’t fit with a romance novel. Words have their place.
They also have effects that have the right moment, too. Their effectiveness depends on what you want to express.
That aside, there is a lot of advice out there says writers shouldn’t use big or flowery words and that modern editors prefer plain English, but the proof of this is, for the most part, unpalatable and depressing - most books on the shelf are all pretty much the same and some contain some really dull, uninteresting description - there is nothing in the voice that resembles anything fresh or powerful. Nothing but sameness is evident because of this trend for simple, straightforward English.
Writers sometimes need those kind of words sprinkled into their narrative, and they need personal expression, because without being wordy to a certain degree, nothing would be written in the first place. Adding the odd big word or two isn’t bad, nor is bringing boring, stilted description alive with a few colourful strokes.
Choice of words is what counts, but it’s also about what you want to say and how you choose to say it that matters.
The idea is to create elegance and colour with descriptions, to wrap the reader in a visual kaleidoscope and let them enjoy all the shades you breathe into your story, instead of losing them in a flourish of fancy words. Fancy words mean nothing if you don’t understand why and how to use them. You can still be clear and concise with what you want to say, but you can do it with colour and flair.
I despair at some of the MSS I receive for critique because so many writers follow this ‘plain English’ mantra and produce lacklustre drivel. Why? Because they haven’t grasped how or when to use the right words, and they haven’t mastered the colours of description.
This is an excerpt from a flash fiction piece called Zero Hour:
A gentle breeze brushed past him, soft and delicate like a butterfly, and he felt invisible, wispy fingers of comfort against his greying skin. He gazed up at the sky; saw the strange, layered clouds, full with moisture and melancholy.
By keeping it plain and simple, you would you have the following:
A gentle breeze brushed past him and he felt invisible fingers of comfort against his greying skin. He gazed up at the sky; saw the strange clouds, full with moisture.
They are both fine, but one creates a deeper, richer picture, one doesn’t. One of these might be considered too wordy, the other is concise. One brings depth to its descriptive framework, one doesn’t. One tells the reader, the other shows.
You decide which one is better.
Here’s another example of how it’s done, with a 100-word flash fiction piece called ‘A Bad Colour’.
Amber slices projected through the trees, the haze of the fire began to swell. The hint of burnt sienna wafted close, scorched a path beneath their noses.
Rope fibres moaned as they became taut, to temper the weight.
Shadows appeared through the smoke, circled him. Milk coloured robes flapped in the breeze, bathed by the fire glow, their faces hidden by hoods.
Red over black; the colour of life slinked down his skin, snaked down the channels they had gouged through his flesh. Open viscera gleamed.
He swung from the tree as the cross burned; the price for being different.
If I had written A Bad Colour in a plain English kind of way, it would be about as interesting as rainwater in a bucket.
Of course, no entire novel is constructed this way, but it shows that being a bit wordy helps the narrative and description in certain places. As the writer, you have to know when it’s needed and what words to use. So, being wordy isn’t a sin. It’s a way of expression.
- Choose the right words
- Ask yourself - what do I want to express?
- Is it better to be dull and concise, or better to be a little wordy?
- Is your description dull, or does it bloom with colour?
- Is your description and narrative lost, or does it rise from the page with added dimension?
Being wordy isn’t bad, it just means that we can be rebellious every now and then in the face of the literature police and just express ourselves the way we want to, how we want to.
No one would tell Picasso or Rembrandt how to paint, and likewise we don’t tell writers how to write. We can only show them how, with advice, to be better.
Next week: How to make description sparkle.