Weekly Writing Challenge: Hope I’m not paid by the word

This week’s Weekly Writing Challenge: the Devil is in the Details gives me an opportunity to defend my tight writing style. So let me come at the theme  from a different angle. It’s a matter of degrees, in fact about 180°. I’m not a big fan of lengthy, flowery, detail-laden writing; I’m economical with words – maybe even cheap. I much prefer Hemingway to Dickens and Simenon to Proust. However, in keeping with the theme I will try, using as many details as I can, to illustrate why I’m not a detail writer.

“A woman walks into a restaurant” – okay, I’m good with that – next. I‘d rather the author got on with the narrative than spent several paragraphs describing things. I like to think readers have their own imaginations and for each of them the restaurant will be different based on their own experiences. For this same reason I don’t like when authors, or anyone for that matter, read from a novel. I understand it is a great honor to have so-and-so read from their best-selling work. But I already have the characters’ voices in my head. I don’t want to be thrown a curve by an author who uses a different accent for a favorite character of mine when reading from his or her book. I believe the reading of books is a personal thing. But I digress.

“Outside the temperature is below freezing, and the restaurant is overheated and crowded, a victim of its own recent success due primarily to a glowing review in a local newspaper. The steam on her glasses renders her blind as she attempts to find her husband who is waiting for her. She stands still hoping her glasses will clear before she walks into someone or worse, knocks over a tray of drinks. Suddenly she is taken aback as her glasses come off and now her vision is blurred not by steam, but by her severe myopia. Before she can react a kind voice says ‘Let me rescue you darling, I knew this would happen’ as her husband wipes her glasses, hands them back to her and leads her to their table.”

I’d prefer:

“A woman walks into a hot restaurant on a freezing night and because it is so hot and crowded her glasses fog up. She doesn’t want to bump into anyone so she stands still before looking for her husband. But he is a step ahead of her and takes her glasses, wipes them off and shows her to their table.”

That’s 125 words in the first version and 60 in the second. I realize that if I were paid by the word I’d be in a pickle, but that’s just me!

Published by DCMontreal

DCMontreal - Deegan Charles Stubbs - is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and an occasional Frean and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DCMontreal on Twitter and on Facebook, and add him on Google+

4 thoughts on “Weekly Writing Challenge: Hope I’m not paid by the word

  1. First, let me say that I’m toally with you. The dictum of my life, and not just my writing, is “Less is more.” However, (and this is the problem that some folks had in interpreting the prompt) including description in your writing doesn’t mean to write that flowery prose you and I both hate, or to over use adjectives and adverbs and describe every excruciating detail of every scene. You only need to describe the important stuff that furthers plot or character.

    While I’m not a fan of that first paragraph, but think about what it reveals about your characters (and maybe the plot) as opposed to what is revealed about them in the second paragraph. The first paragraph reveals that the woman is self conscious, maybe neurotically so (she immediately imagines the various embarrassing pitfalls she might encounter in the room), and certainly imperfect (she’s blind as a bat without her glasses) and dependent on others. The husband sees himself as a white knight (“Let me take care of that”), is affectionate toward his wife (“darling”), and is used to taking care of his wife (this can’t be the first time he’s done this for her since he reacts so automatically).

    Now what do I know about the characters from the second paragraph? Not a whole lot. I can fill in the details myself (maybe the husband is an impatient jerk? maybe he’s a nice guy helping out his wife? maybe the wife is too stupid to know to clear her glasses?), but that may not be the story you’re writing. Who knows? It’s kind of a lazy way of writing to leave it up to the readers to figure out what you’re trying to say. Not sure if that’s the readers’ job.

  2. Wow … thanks for your, dare I say, detailed comment! I think my appreciation of sketchy writing stems from the fact that any professional writing I do tends to be technical in nature: directions and instructions, that sort of thing. Obviously “Open box, plug in electric telescope, enjoy space” just doesn’t cut it as an owner’s manual. Perhaps that’s why when I write for my own, and hopefully my readers’, enjoyment I don’t draw too many pictures. As for lazy, I wear that badge with honor!

  3. I think that first paragraph is great, it’s detailed enough to subtly say things about the characters, but not so much detail that it’s bogged down. The second paragraph is boring, I don’t want to find out more about them, and I would put it down. However, as someone else said, if it was a newspaper account it would be fine. But for a fictional or nonfiction creative piece, the first one is far superior.

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