Don’t Overstuff Your Readers with Unnecessary Description

 

Posted by Magnum Proofreading Staff | October 6, 2018 | Quick Fixes

 
Writing tips - verbs
 
Writing short verb phrases is a good habit. Too often, I see redundancies stem from writers’ attempts to be descriptive. A lot of budding authors sometimes forget that adjectives are not always needed for a phrase to be expressive. In most cases, a wisely chosen verb gives the reader sufficient information. If a writer isn’t careful, divulging extra information is more likely to dilute a verb than enhance it.

Below is an example of a sentence in which the verb has been watered down:

I was abruptly jolted from my sleep, shaken suddenly by a shocking crash of thunder.

The author tried to create a sense of shock with this sentence. However, they tried too hard. It is not a good strategy to think of a bunch of words that evoke a feeling and then cram as many of them as you can into a sentence. Writing in this way often creates redundant phrases, not vivid ones.
 
 
Let’s examine our example more closely to better understand why it is not written well. Consider the head of this sentence’s verb phrase: jolted.

If we get our dictionary out, we see the following definitions for jolt:

Push or shake (someone or something) abruptly and roughly.

Give a surprise or shock to (someone) in order to make them act or change.

Notice that the word jolted itself contains several of the words that the author has used to describe it: Abruptly, shaken, suddenly, and shocking are all redundancies in our example. Instead of adding something to the word jolted, these words merely relay components of it back to the reader.
 
 
If we delete the redundant words and leave in only those which help the reader to better visualize, understand, or feel the event being described, we produce a sentence which gives the reader everything they need (and not a word more) to envision what is happening:

I was jolted from my sleep by a crash of thunder.

Ah, just the perfect amount. 🙂


References

Jolt. (n.d.). In Oxford English Dictionary online. Retrieved from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/jolt