We left in pretty good time, and came after nightfall to Klausenburgh. Here I stopped for the night at the Hotel Royale. I had for dinner, or rather supper, a chicken done up some way with red pepper, which was very good but thirsty. (Mem. get recipe for Mina.) I asked the waiter, and he said it was called “paprika hendl,” and that, as it was a national dish, I should be able to get it anywhere along the Carpathians.
– A snippet from chapter 1 of Dracula
I notice quite a bit in older writing (the classics, J.R.R.Tolkien’s works, Dracula, etc.) that while the writers are very precise, they are not concise. Now, what is the difference between these two terms? Well, let’s define them.
Precise, as defined by Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary, is “very accurate and exact.”
Concise, as defined by Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary, is “using few words : not including extra or unnecessary information.”
Today, we tend to try to write more concisely. Now how do you do that?
1) Don’t include unnecessary information.
Example: The color ink of the pen you write with doesn’t matter much unless it’s a red pen and you’re correcting an essay or something.
2) If you can say the same thing in fewer words, do it, unless the longer version packs a harder punch.
3) If you mention something, use it.
This is kind of a follow-up to Mirram’s always-brilliant post – in the comments, I asked her how to know what information to include and she paraphrased what some playwright said which is basically, “if you mention a gun on the wall, don’t finish the book until it’s been used.”
These are all rules of thumb and not set in stone (unless you etched them into a stone tablet, but that’s a lot of trouble to go through for something that doesn’t apply all the time). They are good tips to keep in mind.
And if you find a sure-fire way to know how much detail to add or keep from telling, let me know. 😉
With all of this in mind, I’d like to take a few seconds to point out that it’s very good to describe the setting. Just remember to not bog the reader down with too much information.
So, what do you think? Do you write too much? Too little? Have you found your happy medium?