Less is More

I just finished reading a blog post by Martha Kennedy with this same title. She starts out with a terse bit of editing wisdom from author Truman Capote: “I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.”

I heartily agree with what she says. Less is more. Author Jerry Jenkins stresses this over and over in his writing course: “Don’t use two adjectives; one is enough. Better yet, choose a stronger action verb.” Adverbs have similarly fallen out of style, I hear.

Mark Twain once gave wannabe writers similar advice, with a wry wit in the delivery: “When you see an adjective, kill it.”

Awhile back I read a book that reminded me of his quip. A good story, but the author seems to over-use adjectives and adverbs, often as a way to pat characters on the back.
– Jill generously gave him a huge slice of pie.
– Jack unselfishly offered to drive them to the mall.
– He appreciated Jill’s considerate offer to look after his sister.
– Jack sighed appreciatively after Jill’s extremely satisfying dinner.
– Jill admired Jack’s dashing good looks.
– Jack’s humble way of suggesting…
– Jack found Jill extremely attractive.
– Jack’s unstinting effort to find the owner pleased Jill immensely.

Get my point?

These seasonings are okay when lightly sprinkled through the book, and I like stories about kind, thoughtful people. However, if superlatives appear too often it can sound like the writer’s trying to impress on forgetful readers what a wonderful, thoughtful, generous character this is. I don’t have to be told twenty times that the hero is smart, generous, and handsome or gorgeous. Perversely, this inclines me to dislike Mr/Ms goodie-two-shoes.

No matter what you’re saying about your characters’ qualities, more than three or four times is overkill. Don’t try to sneak them past the reader by embellishing their wonderful acts, either. Let the reader decide if that your character’s a keeper.

9 thoughts on “Less is More

  1. I agree with you. Sentences such as those always come across to me as a writer telling the reader what to think about the characters. I believe that if the characters are real people, the reader will get to know them as we get to know people in the real world — through their behavior.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I think what I hate most is tons of front matter in which the author thanks the whole world and then prefaces the work (which shouldn’t need any explanation) and FINALLY you get the story. I usually skip all that. If the story is any good, it doesn’t need anything but itself. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I guess the “Thanks for your help” make the people mentioned smile–and hopefully they’ll be willing to help with the next book, too. Unless I the people, this expression of gratitude doesn’t click with me. It’s like a private conversation you overhear.
        A novel hardly ever needs a preface. Actually, at times I’ve started out a blog post with an apologetic disclaimer like, “Don’t mind this, I’m just musing” or “A few thoughts here, for what they’re worth,” then realized this isn’t necessary. I don’t have to tell readers what to think about my ideas; say it and be done with it. 🙂


  2. I sincerely, truly, honestly do not understand what anyone finds so horrible, awful, uncompromisingly objectionable about using a very few descriptive words to help flesh out, complete, and define a person, place, or situation.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for your humorously perspicacious comment, Linda. The key words here are “A FEW.” I think if you’d check out Tom Sawyer you’d find a few, too. 😉

      The question is, do you need this word? Jack offered to drive them to the mall tells you he’s a congenial type. Throwing in “unselfishly” is like the writer’s patting him on the back.

      As you say, it’s well-nigh impossible to describe a scene, or scenery, without throwing in a few adjectives:
      Brevity: “These mountains were not like the Rockies.”
      Descriptive: These mountains were smooth-topped and green like the hills of Vermont, not rugged, reaching-for-the-sky grey granite like the Rockies.

      Liked by 1 person

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