Economy of language is a wonderful thing- I admire writers who are able to express in three words what others take paragraphs to say. I overwrite- a big part of my most recent edit is getting rid of superfluous adjectives creating overwrought descriptions, and a lot of redundancies.
I know my verbosity is due to insecurity at to how I am perceived. I tend talk a lot to ensure I am understood. The problem with this is that it doesn’t give me or my listeners/readers a whole lot of credit and indicates a mistrust of own ability to be precise and accurate with my language. It’s a fundamental mistrust of my skill in my craft. I can frame this as one of the first speedbumps in developing a clear writing process. Overwriting can go up there with turning off the inner-editor, developing a daily routine, and handling critique as the Shit You Have to Handle to Be a Writer.
Curiously, as I’ve been editing, I’ve noticed the most egregious over-writing is happening in action scenes and sex scenes. Both are similar in that they have a more “this happened, then this happened, then this happened” quality that other kinds of scenes. There’s also a lot of keeping track of body parts. If a wolf’s jaws are around Lexie’s neck at some point, they shouldn’t be on her foot the next. Likewise with clothing. I had Lexie take off her shirt 4 times in her first love scene before I could figure out when it actually needed to go.
The detail I’m dishing out in these scenes- while helpful from a choreography perspective and an important map for me as I’m writing, isn’t too much fun to read and smacks of erotica or genre novels (where those are the details a reader wants) or just a lack of editing. Don’t get me wrong- I like writing erotica. It’s easy for me, and I love concocting endless permutations of human (or non-human) bodies. Lunatic Fringe isn’t an erotica novel, though, so out comes the colored pen. (Although I’ve toyed around with writing a “director’s cut” to sell to stores like Good Vibes or SheBop with hot and heavy scenes intact.)
In editing the crap out of these scenes, I’m also learning a lot about why metaphors are useful. While everyone recognizes sentences like: She opened like a flower glistening with morning dew to welcome his throbbing member as the worst of the harlequin cliches, it’s not sexy to say She spread her wet vulva to accept his erect penis, either. Well, maybe a little more, but not as much as something somewhere between the two. I moonlight as a sex educator, so using the “proper” terms for body parts and acts is often considered a virtue. But I have to wonder, am I doing more harm than good by using the words mons and glans during the sweaty stuff? The more I write “Left Hand on Right Breast, Right hand on left hip” over and over again, the more tiresome and less sexy it sounds.
Where a hand is doesn’t tell you the real story about the sex that’s happening, just as the nature of the weapon doesn’t tell you about the psychological effect of violence. The real explicitness of an event isn’t in the assembled body parts- it’s about the relationship of the action to the mental state of the characters and what the choices they’re making tell us about the story.
Getting lost in the details leads to overwriting. If you have a fuzzy motive for why characters are bonking or why they’re fighting, it will be far too easy to fall back on snapping jaws, scratching nails, kicking feet, and jumps, flips, and bites. Focusing on the internal- why they’re in the situation and what their experience of it tells the reader- is far more compelling and far harder to write.
Meaning is not within things but between things. What makes good sex makes good sex scenes – some attention to detail, but an overall enthusiasm, presence, and agility.