Wordiness is ubiquitous. It appears in emails, Facebook status updates, blogs, memos, newsletters, bulletins, tabloids, signage, packaging … I am sure you get the picture. It is often a result of not mastering the language, not taking the time or knowing how to wordsmith, not knowing the true definitions of words. It comes from our K-12 education in which our English teachers encouraged us to dress up our otherwise simplified and direct prose with flowery language and ornamentation. Make it colorful. Make it dramatic. Make it superficial!
I don’t blame the perpetuators of wordiness for their origins, but I do wonder if they ever consider how it reflects on their being. I’m not exactly going existential here, though a parallel could be drawn by anyone insisting on that level of depth. Your self, my self, the collective self of the population at large, is reflected in everything we do and say, essential to our personalities and the personae we are perceived by.
The careless overuse of words, particularly descriptive and melodramatic language, creates a persona comprising a lack of concision, blurred clarity, a deficit of directness, and unnecessary complexity. I am intentionally going way over the top with wordiness as I espouse this idealized concept I just created on the fly earlier this morning. Or, simply put, I was intentionally wordy in my adoption of this new concept to illustrate the point. One’s true character is mired by these complexities much like viewing their aura through a kaleidoscope and not the naked third eye. Exhausted yet?
An exercise in extreme anti-wordiness
I recently wrote a short story using no descriptive language – no adjectives, no adverbs, no dialogue, though a rare exception was permitted for describing time transitions – as an exercise for my MFA writing workshop. It forced me to consider how I would convey mood, environment, and appearance through carefully selected nouns and verbs. Each meticulously selected word took on a new power and stronger meaning. After I shared it with my workshop group, I learned from their feedback that I had crafted an effective suspenseful and vivid story with zero descriptions. It was a worthwhile challenge that I will employ regularly moving forward.
I urge anyone battling their wordiness demons to try this exercise too. You will find your true self in the process.
Please share your thoughts on this below. I am always interested in what others think.
3 thoughts on “A Writer’s Exploration: Wordiness and the Lack of Self”
I enjoyed your post about wordiness, as it's a personal pet peeve of mine. I'm a HS English teacher and I encourage my students to be concise. Part of the problem is, however, that my students do need to elaborate, but that doesn't mean that they should use unnecessary words to pad their essays. They do need to support their thesis statements with evidence, textual or otherwise. I focus more on literary analysis, and not so much on narrative, however.
Nice piece, David . . I'd enjoy reading the story if you want to share.
Thank you both. Dick, it's in your email.