Over-write first for a better final draft
You’ve heard the age-old writing advice “show, don’t tell,” right? We try to incorporate as many sensory details as we can, and to rely on imagery as much as simple, declarative sentences.
But no matter what kind of prose you’re writing, you can turn ordinary action, like making a sandwich, into a showing scene by first over-writing it.
You might be asking, what do you mean, over-write? Aren’t I supposed to use word economy, cut unimportant words and phrases to distill my writing into the most important and meaningful information?
Yes. In your final draft. But to get to a better final draft, choose a scene from your working draft and over-write it. Here’s how:
Break it down into steps.
If you were to tell someone how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you might say something simple like, “Put peanut butter and jelly on bread.” But if you were describing how to make a sandwich, you’d say more. And by breaking the sandwich-making process into steps, you will see opportunities to pepper in details about your character(s). For example, write, “Remove the bread from the bread box. Open the cabinet, locate peanut butter, set it on the counter. Open fridge, locate jelly, set it on the counter. Take out two pieces of bread and lay them side by side…” and so on.
Break it down again.
Every time you think you’ve written the whole process, see if you can break one step down further (i.e., “Walk over to the bread box. Open it. Reach inside and pick up bread…”). You won’t use all of these steps in your story, but writing them all out like that might help you dilate a small or mundane scene by revising a basic, uninteresting sentence like “He made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich” and transforming it into, “He slapped two pieces of bread on the counter and slathered one with peanut butter, swearing when it stuck to his fingers.”
Make the scene mean more.
The revised sentence above gives your readers relatable, sensory details that ground them in the scene, but you’ve also added two words—“slapped” and “swearing”—that show the character’s impatience. Now the sandwich-making scene carries much more weight. It’s not a scene that necessarily advances the plot or action of your narrative, but it sketches out your character without saying, “He is an impatient man.”
By breaking a small action down into as many steps as possible, you create opportunities to insert details not just for the sake of details, but for strengthening your entire narrative.
Have you or will you try over-writing? Share with us in the comments!
Related reading: How to end your story already! (in 3 steps)
Want to receive tips and tricks like these in your inbox every Sunday morning? Subscribe to our email list! And when you do, not only will you get a year’s worth of weekly writing prompts for FREE, but you’ll be eligible to participate in our monthly photo prompt contest for a chance to share an original piece of writing with our community of over 1,100 subscribers!