When reading a book, the plot and the characters will keep me reading, but often what first grabs my attention is the language. I’m a sucker for poetic prose and figurative language, and often try to incorporate similar writing styles into my own work.
But as I’ve gone through various writing classes and workshops, I’ve learned that it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. You may string along pretty sounding words and form meticulous metaphors, resulting in a beautiful passage, but at the end of the day what is really being said?
It’s an easy trap to fall into. Playing around with words is fun. How many different ways can we describe the falling snow? Or the wave of heat that blasts from your oven when you check on a baking loaf of bread? How does each of the five senses experience the world around you, and what’s the best way to capture that experience on paper?
❝ At the same time, the passage should add to or progress the story. You can take your time describing the setting, but at some point you must pause and ask yourself: 'What is actually necessary for the reader to know?' ❞
For a first draft, by all means, go nuts. Write that poetic piece describing the toast you ate for breakfast. Use as many words as you want with as much figurative language as you can cram in. Upon revising, take your piece chunk by chunk and ask what each sentence serves for the story. Shorten it by cutting out unnecessary words, then rephrase the remaining sentences to be as concise as possible.
This doesn’t mean that you should never include figurative language. These literary devices spice up the work and make things interesting. It’s all about balance. Say things in a luxurious way, but make the descriptions functional.
This is where a second set of eyes can help. Your editor can call you out on places in your story where you go off on a tangent without progressing the story. It’s all about finding the essential information to your story. Once you know what your story is about, all things will follow after that, including the pace of the action and the flow of the figurative language.
is a writer based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Graduating in May 2020 with a degree in English Literature with a Writing Emphasis, Ian writes comics, poetry, and scripts. He is currently an intern for The Brain Health Magazine and aims to work in the comic publishing industry. In his spare time, Ian plays Dungeons & Dragons, board games, and bass guitar.