Simplify Your Story: How To Avoid Complicated Prose

By on August 22, 2016
Simplify Your Story: How To Avoid Complicated Prose - Writer's

One of the worst things someone can say about your creative writing is that it is ‘overwritten.’ This is where you write too elaborately or descriptively and the result, rather than enticing your reader into your ornately described world, actually puts them off reading any further.

Avoiding overly complicated prose is important in both fiction and non-fiction writing. If you try to be too clever, pile metaphor upon metaphor, or create sentences stuffed to the brim with adjectives you’ll be hard pressed to find readers who enjoy your work.

Clear, simple, beautifully put together sentences are what makes the reader happy, and what makes your story flow.

It is so easy to complicate your writing, and we have all been guilty of it. We are willing the reader to immerse themselves in our world so intently, that we refuse to let them imagine it. Instead, we tell them, detail by excruciating detail, exactly what it is like, but doing so just ends up creating distance and confusion instead.

Sometimes we are so into our work we don’t notice that what we are writing is too complicated and confusing.

So how do we spot these mistakes in our prose, and, perhaps more importantly, how do we fix them?

If you aren’t sure whether your sentence is a little too exaggerated, then ask yourself why is it there? Is it just one of those sentences that you are attached to, or does it help to advance your story? Could it be made simpler, what would happen if you did? Would you lose anything from the story, or would it, in fact, make it better?

If in doubt, simplify.

Take a look at this monster of a sentence:

The rain plummeted in shivering, drizzly sheets, relentless, unnerving in its terrible crusade, and Susan pulled her itchy grey jumper up at the collar and sighed, a desperate, ragged, audacious sigh that seemed to echo around the cold room and be gobbled up by the misery of a night that might be her last.

By correcting the complex language here, you end up painting a far clearer picture.

The rain that fell was relentless and unnerving. Susan pulled up her jumper and sighed sadly. Would she make it through the night?

Some readers may prefer some of the more elaborate language in the first example.

However, when reading entire novels written like this, this style of prose quickly becomes tiresome. Stories should be action packed and exciting. Describing everything in 5 lines when it should take two, and making all your sentences so long that the reader has no time to breathe, makes reading a tough task indeed.

Try to cut longer sentences into shorter ones, tell it straight, and replace flowery words with simple ones. Then, when you do want to use more descriptive and embellished language, it will really stand out and therefore have a more arresting effect on the reader.

When you begin your story, don’t police your language too much.

It is far better to get the words out then worry over every sentence, every word. However, when you go back to edit your work try to look out for sentences that are too long and descriptive. See if you can find a way to shorten and simply them and you’ll find the second draft of your story is far smarter, cleaner and punchier than before - and what writer doesn’t want that?!

Bethany Cadman -author of 'Doctor Vanilla's Sunflowers'

Bethany Cadman -author of 'Doctor Vanilla's Sunflowers'

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