I wanted to take a break from writing for the purpose of sharing a few thoughts with you concerning two different approaches to writing, something about which I’ve always wanted to throw in my two cents, and is being spurred on by the school calendar event commonly known by all educators in Michigan (and dreaded by them as well, for good reason) as the MEAP, which involves writing tests among other things (Not something I like to talk about myself, but feel free to shoot a message to me some time and I’ll give you all the gory details).
Generally speaking, writers can be broken down into two different groups: minimalists, and maximumists (Yes, that’s a made-up word, but you’ll get the idea as we go along). The minimalist believes in doing more with less, taking the approach that fewer words should be used in the formation of thoughts. The reasoning for this is that excessive wording 1.) bogs down the reader, and 2.) can actually strip the reader of the freedom of imagination (i.e., that the reader’s mental image is too hemmed in by an overabundance of detail). They prefer stripped down versions of text, believing them to be more effective in delivery.
By contrast, the maximumist believes that “more is more.” The maximumist believes that the reader deserves to be free access to every nook and cranny of the writer’s imagination, and as a result will put down as much as possible in order for the reader to capture the exact sentiment or description meant to be understood. The maximumist, while acknowledging that there is a point where excessive wordiness and “gobbledygook” can hinder the reader, nevertheless puts as much detail into his work as possible in order to present a completed work to the reader, much in the same way that an artist details his painting with as much painstaking intricacy as possible so as to bring his portrait to life.
And as with all other things in life, debate rages on in the writing community as to which approach is more suitable for the writer to take, without any sign of a consensus arriving anytime soon. As many times as you can see somebody championing the style of a minimalist like Hemingway, you’ll have an opposing voice given in praise of the verbose Faulkner (and if you are not familiar with the works of either one, pick up something from both authors, and you’ll see what I mean right away). That there is such a divergence on this issue makes for some interesting conversations among authors as to why they do or don’t prefer one side over the other.
Now, before I weigh in with my opinion, I first want to say that each viewpoint has it’s place in the craft of writing. For example, if I’m reading a non-fiction article that is intended to persuade or inform, I generally don’t want a whole lot of unnecessary adjectives and adverbs. My focus in reading non-fiction is for the author to simply “get to the point” and leave me alone. I don’t like being strung along with a sort of “set-up” that turns a three hour read out of an informative piece that could get its point across in ten minutes. Maybe that’s just me, but I’m pretty sure that similar thoughts about non-entertaining pieces of literature can be found among the readers of that genre. Conversely, when I’m reading fiction for pleasure, I don’t mind a little bit of extra wordiness if it’s done for the sake of description. Don’t get me wrong; useless prattle does nothing to further a story or develop a character. But at the same time, I don’t necessarily want so much to be left to my imagination that I cannot conceive of the described person or thing in a clear and directed way. Words can form boundaries, and those boundaries should shape the imagination in a way that gives the reader a distinct mental image (again, much in the same way that an artist’s portrait is painted for the benefit of the audience).
So, having said that, I’ve come to the conclusion that, when it comes to my fiction works, I prefer to have a little bit of excess wording here and there, much in the same way that I like a little bit of excess weight on myself ;). Again, without getting misunderstood here, I’m not saying that writers should babble to the extent of wearing down the reader. But at the same time (and I confess that this may in part have to do with my growing up on his work), a writer like Stephen King who saturates his audience with detail does them a favor in that there is little ambiguity with regard to the image he wants to put in their head. The places, the people, the monsters, the details–they’re all available for the reader to see, and that does wonders for immersing the reader in the author’s created world.
Plus (and this comes from my own experience), I’ve found that, when editing time comes, it’s easier to overwrite and cut things out than it is to underwrite and have to add more later on. When it’s time to take the stories to the “writing woodshed,” I find it far more feasible to take away than to add, should the situation call for it. Again, while this may not work for every writer, the axiom that it’s better to have what you don’t need rather than to need what you don’t have seems to work far better in this situation.
So if you’re a writer who’s wondering how much to put down, my advice is to put it ALL down. You can always trim off the excess fat later on :)
And speaking of excess fat… I’d better get to working out. RadCon needs to see a better J. Dean than they would now if the convention were today.
Alright, let me know what you think!
See you in the Vein!