Our characters in our books speak. They talk about the weather, the situation they’re facing, and their yearnings. Dialogue is the perfect place to insert little tidbits that don’t fit into the narrative, if you’re careful.
There is one thing characters should never do when they’re speaking in a book. It’s a condition called over-verbosity, where the author decides a single word doesn’t appropriately convey the meaning and feels the need to add a few more words, and then a few more, until finally the dialogue stretches for several lines and the reader lost track of what was being discussed.
You’ve seen it. You might have even thought it was a great way to fill the vocabulary needs of every reader you can attract. Open the thesaurus in your word processing program and add every single word that’s a synonym for the one you’re using, in order to get your point across. Your characters will always be trying to, attempting, beginning, endeavoring, struggling, striving, beginning, starting, originating, and commencing in what they’re doing. They’ll never jump. Rather, they’ll jump, hop, skip, spring, caper, and vault—all at the same time.
The reader will see those words, if they make it past an editor, and they’ll immediately be turned off, if not exhausted from all this action. Verb strings, where an author opens a thesaurus and adds in words that define the main verb, are wrong. All you’re doing is enhancing your word count and boring your reader to tears, if not sending them to take a nap from exhaustion.
There is a rule about verbs. Pick one and use it in a sentence. As authors, we strive to avoid word repetition, and these verb strings will set us up to have to do that, because we’re using every synonym in the book in order to complete a single sentence. Once you’ve developed this habit, it becomes very simple to do the same thing with nouns. By the time you finish your novel, you’re amazed at how long it is. You’re satisfied you’ve “told” the reader everything they need to know about each sequence. In fact, you’re feeling pretty proud of yourself at this point.
How can anyone believe your book is anything but a well written story they will understand from the first sentence?
In fact, your readers will lose patience with your verb and noun strings before they finish the first chapter. They’ll be exhausted slogging through each sentence and wondering why your editor let this happen. The book will be closed and they will give you a scathing review about how you need to burn your thesaurus and write in a simpler manner.
You, the author, will be reading these reviews and wondering how all these readers missed your fabulous prose and your carefully thought decision to ensure everyone reading your book understood your intent. You might even think about responding to their caustic comments, explaining carefully and professionally that they missed the point entirely. (A point here—don’t ever respond to reviews. More on that in a latter post.)
What you have done with your extra words is alienate your reader base. Learn the hard lesson many before you have experienced. Ten or more words instead of one never works.
About the K.C. Sprayberry
Born and raised in Southern California’s Los Angeles basin, K.C. Sprayberry spent years traveling the United States and Europe while in the Air Force before settling in northwest Georgia. A new empty nester with her husband of more than twenty years, she spends her days figuring out new ways to torment her characters and coming up with innovative tales from the South and beyond.
She’s a multi-genre author who comes up with ideas from the strangest sources. Those who know her best will tell you that nothing is safe or sacred when she is observing real life. In fact, she considers any situation she witnesses as fair game when plotting a new story.
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