OverwritingAre you guilty of what my friend Margo Dill calls overwriting?  

When I first heard Margo use this term, I wasn’t sure what she meant.  Fortunately, Margo is an excellent teacher and was more than happy to explain.  Overwriting is Margo’s way of saying that you have said the same thing multiple times within the body of your story.

Sometimes it is at the sentence level, such as:

  • He confronted the evil villain.
  • She nodded her head yes.
  • “What is going on here?” he thought to himself.

In each of these examples, something could easily be cut.  Villains are generally evil.  Nodding means yes and I’ve never heard of anyone nodding their elbow.  Unless your character is telekinetic, he isn’t going to think to anyone but himself.

Other times we overwrite when we try to add interior dialogue to our stories.  Matt de la Pena gave a great example of this at the Missouri SCBWI fall conference.  Don’t bother to include a thought unless it is somehow informative.  AND do not try to tell the reader things that are obvious.  In Matt’s example, he wouldn’t say “He thought about how sad he was that he and his girlfriend had broken up.” Why?  Because you expect him to be sad.  Let us see his thoughts when they are surprising.  Perhaps he’s relieved they have split because she was verbally abusive.

You also overwrite when you both show us something and then also tell us about it.  If your character slams the door, kicks his desk and throws his backpack across the room, you don’t need to tell us he was angry.

I’d love to say that the only way I overwrite is the first example but, if I’m being honest, I’m going to have to admit that I’m just as guilty of thinking the obvious as well as both showing and stating.

Where do you overwrite in your work?



3 thoughts on “Overwriting

    1. You’re right. These are hard habits to break. Sometimes I catch myself in the first draft and delete “start” or “begin” and reword the sentence. But I draft on my computer and I find that I cut best when I print and read a hard copy.

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