Today’s theme: Balance. There’s a fine line between not enough, and way too much.
Therefore, it is best to avoid:
- Lazy word repetition. This is not to be confused with purposeful word repetition, which creates emphasis or a rhythmic effect. Lazy repetition is using the same word more often than necessary out of a lack of effort. It really bogs down the prose, making it boring and stilted. Changing things up with a synonym (or maybe a pronoun) can go a long way. Just be careful not to over-do it (see: Thesaurus addict).
- Not Great: The sun shown high over head, beating down directly on their heads. Sweat dripped from their foreheads.
- Better: The sun shown high over head, beating directly down on them. Sweat dripped from their brows.
- Look-at-my-big-word syndrome. I like big words, but I prefer them to be used judiciously. Unless, of course, you want to be the literary equivalent of they guy with the huge, extra-grumbly truck and a really small…never mind.
- Not Great: It provided ample serviceability.
- Better: It was useful. (Please note that this one largely depends on context, and overall tone. The ‘not great’ version is appropriate if you have a ‘high style’ throughout the piece.)
- Clown-car sentences. This is when someone tries to squeeze all of their ideas into one long, complicated sentence. They stack clause upon clause, sprinkling commas about like parade candy. It may be grammatically correct, but it’s like having twelve circus clowns stuffed into a tiny car. Nobody knows what’s going on in there – Who’s hand is this? Where did my shoe go? Splitting it up into a few shorter sentences will be much easier to understand.
- Not Great: Before inserting tab A into slot B, ensure that, underneath panel C, between the cables, thumbscrew D has been secured.
- Better: Between the cables under panel C, locate thumbscrew D. Tighten thumbscrew D as needed, ensuring that it is secure. Then insert tab A into slot B.
- Details for the sake of details. Some detail is great, but if your piece sounds more like a catalog (and isn’t actually a catalog) you’ve gone too far. So before you tell me exactly how tall that character is, or how many bolts are holding the table together, ask yourself: Does it matter? Does it add anything (of substance) to the piece? If you don’t say ‘yes’ immediately, you probably want to find something else to say.
- Not Great: Phillip was 47 years old, six foot three and had a broad, barrel chest. He wore faded blue jeans and a white t-shirt, tinged slightly yellow, that was stained with oil, grease, and sweat from a busy day working on in the garage.
- Better: Phillip was middle aged, built like a Clydesdale, and smelt like the garage. It had been a busy day.
- Thesaurus addict. This is the flip-side of lazy word repetition, and cousin to look-at-my-big-word syndrome. Yes, you want to vary your wording to keep things interesting. However, if you find yourself using five different terms for the same thing – it’s too much. Over-variation sounds unnatural and distracts from what you’re really trying to say.
- Not Great: The noon-day sun shone high over head, at it’s zenith. It beat down on them from it’s position aloft.
- Better: The sun shone high over head, beating down on them.
The picture is from Wiki Commons. Public domain image.