Verbose: adjective. Using or expressed in more words than are needed. “Much academic language is obscure and verbose.: synonym: wordy, loquacious, garrulous, talkative, voluble.
I’ve been told I write tight, but my critique partners and editors can usually find ways to tighten my writing. Often I’ve read books (some being bestsellers) where I wished an editor had cut out half the words. It’s easy to get carried away with a description, and I sometimes think literary writers are afraid they’ll be drummed out of that classification if they don’t throw in lyrical passages that demonstrate their eloquent command of verbose and loquacious verbal skills.
Yep, that’s a bit of verbosity.
What I’m trying to say is take a look at what you’ve written. Can it be said in fewer words without losing its meaning or impact?
Here’s something I recently wrote:
One by one, they carried the boxes that listed their contents as books—or merchandise Mary had saved from the bookstore—up the stairs and set them on the living room carpet until only a half-dozen boxes remained.
The person critiquing this chapter made the following change:
One by one, they carried the boxes marked “books” up the stairs and set them on the living room carpet until only a half-dozen remained.
As you can see, her change shortens the sentence. Now, if the merchandise in some of those boxes was important to my story, I would keep the original (or something similar), but the merchandise is NOT important to my story, so I went with the revised sentence.
When eliminating words, look for redundancies:
He woke that morning at 5 a.m.
He woke at 5 a.m. (Obviously it would be morning.)
He sat down on the bed.
He sat on the bed.
When describing a room, clothing, a scene, or action consider what is truly important to your story and/or to the character. Also consider the genre. Besides literary novels, a certain amount of verbosity is desired and expected in historical novels where the reader wants more than a cut and dry description. A reader wants a sense of the times. The same may be true of science fiction or thrillers such as the ones Tom Clancy wrote, where a detailed description of a weapon or piece of equipment might be necessary for the reader’s understanding.
The opposite is true of objects or operations that most people would be familiar with. If your character is getting up, bathing, getting dressed, having breakfast, and leaving for work, unless something unusual or key to the plot of your story occurs during that time, it’s really not necessary to go into detail. To describe each step would be boring to the reader. One short sentence should get your character on her way.
Purple Prose is one form of being verbose. Sadly the term is often used to describe romance writing in general. Where you’ll commonly find it is during love scenes where the writer uses euphemisms to describe the act of making love. This is where the writer must walk a tight line; too much and it can become ridiculous, too little and it’s a cut-and-dry how-to lesson.
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The question each writer must answer when editing is: Have I been too verbose?