Tuesday, July 26, 2011

LOL, BRB, IDK, JK, IMHO, TMI...What in the world is she talking about?


Too Much Information

Delia Latham

In this age of texting, chatting and e-mail, everything is abbreviated and acronymed. LOL. BRB. IDK. JK. IMHO.

Good or bad, today’s society is busy. Everyone is pushed for time. No one has ten minutes to deal with something that could be handled in two, and they want to know only what they need to know to do their jobs, take care of business, stay on the right side of the law, raise their children…or even something as simple as reading a book.

TMI. Too Much Information. That’s the one we’re going to think on for a bit, because after all, it’s the reason for the whole age of abbreviation, isn’t it?

Writers, by nature, love words. It’s difficult for us to chop our masterpieces down to a skeletal, bare bones presentation. After all, that means tossing many of our favorite flowery phrases and delectable descriptions into the circular file. Oh, the angst!

That said, most readers are at least semi-intelligent people. They can put two and two together without a lesson in addition.

What does all this have to do with TMI?

One of the things I notice most often when critiquing the work of inexperienced writers (and some who should know better…) is a tendency to overdo the details.

Consider this example:

Sally swung into the driveway and switched off the ignition. She gathered her purse and jacket, then opened the door, climbed out of the car, and walked up the path to the house. Inserting her key in the lock, she pushed open the door and entered the cool, shadowed hallway. A flip of the light switch revealed a stack of mail on the entry table, where her mother always left it. Excited, Sally tossed her jacket onto the coat rack and dropped her purse on the floor before shuffling through the pile of envelopes.

Her breath caught in her throat. There it was. After six long months of waiting, a letter from John.


Seriously. Give your reader credit for knowing a few things without having to be told. They all switch off their engines when they reach a destination. None of them can get out of their cars without opening the car door—nor can they get inside the house without walking to the door, unlocking it (usually), pushing it open, and entering.

Almost all of the above example could and should be omitted with the assumption that a reader will figure it out on their own. Easily. Without plodding through each minute little detail.

Arriving home, Sally entered the cool, shadowed entryway and flipped on a light. As it had for the past six months, her gaze went immediately to the little oak table where Mama always left the mail. She dropped her purse on the floor and sorted through the stack, barely breathing.

A hoarse cry ripped from her throat when she saw it. Finally, after six long months of waiting—a letter from John.

The first example used 112 words. The second one made the same point using only 72 words—that’s 40 words trashed. And it is true in this case as in most that less is more.

Description is easy to overdo. But it’s certainly not the only area in which writers err on the side of wordiness.

Mary switched her purse to her left arm so she could shake his hand. “Hello, Jim. How are you?”

“Doing well, Mary, thank you.” His grip was strong, but gentle. “How are you?”

“Just fine, thank you, Jim.” She extracted her hand from his grip, though she longed to leave it there a little longer. “It’s nice to see you again.”

Jim nodded. “It’s great to see you too.”

            Come on, people. Really?

            Nothing—I repeat, nothing—is more annoying than having to read through line after line of this kind of drivel. Can’t we skip the “niceties” and assume our readers really don’t want to hear every word of typical greetings like these? And since I’m being nit-picky...we don’t call each other by name in every other sentence we use, so why should our characters? It’s annoying. It grates on the nerves. It makes editors scream. It tempts readers to close the book and look for something more interesting to read.

How to avoid the TMI syndrome?

·         Think about the message you want to convey, and do so as succinctly as possible.

·         Trust your readers to have the brain power to connect the dots.

·         Trim away the excess.

I’ve offered only two examples of places writers get carried away with details and force too much information on their readers. Obviously, many more could be examined, but…well, you’re an intelligent person. You get the message already, don’t you?

Any more would be TMI.
c 2011 - Delia Latham

Ok, it's YOUR turn. What are some excesses YOU'VE come across when you read? Or how about some you've found yourself using too much when you write? We'd love to read what YOU have to say.


  1. I read another blog post today from an agent about sensory details and needing more of them. I guess it just depends :) Interesting blog today. Blessings, BJ

  2. This great, Delia. Love how you broke it down. Wonderful help for us writers. :)

  3. It's a job in itself just finding that fine line, isn't it? :)

  4. Hi, Raquel! Glad you could come by.

  5. I'm new to your blog, Delia. Love the post today. All I can say is...Yes, yes, and Amen! I did, in fact, put down a book recently for this exact reason. I can't remember the descriptive detail that pushed me over the edge now; I'm certain I've blocked it out. Great to remember as I make my first attempt at fiction. Thank you!

  6. Hi, Lisa! So glad you came by today. I'm actually guest posting on this blog - it belongs to Shirley Kiger Connolly, and I just pop in now and then to offer what I HOPE are a few words of wisdom. :) Shirley and I would love to see you here again next time!

  7. Nice post. I'm a big fan of sensory details, but just one or two per new environment/emotion, please. Any more is TMI! Oh and a great way to reduce word count is to combine sensory detail with action. "He shoved his glasses up his perspiring nose." Tacky sentence, but you get the idea. ;-)

  8. Excellent example, April! I love sensory detail, as well, but...it can be overdone so easily. :) Thanks for coming by!

  9. Excellent advice! And very timely as I am working through the edits on my just completed ms before sending it in.

  10. Hi, Carol! What an exciting time! I love those final edits, and I know you're going to do a great job.

  11. Great post, Delia. Makes me think...especially since I'm wretched at such things. :-) Appreciate the advice. God bless. Your writing is amazing.

  12. Thank you, Marianne - and right backatcha! :)

  13. I, too, love sensory details. But because I'm so wordy, I can tend to get carried away. It is really good to be reminded, especially as you are going through rewrites.
    I'm loving the comments!
    Thanks guys.

  14. Shirley, I know what you mean. I recently wound up at 23,500 words on a manuscript that needed to be 20,000 words. Talk about trimming away the excess!

  15. That's what I need to do with my waistline!

  16. Loved this post. You know it's good if it got a nod from Nicola Martinez.
    I have a tendency to get lost in the setting details now rather than all the character actions.
    You asked about what I've noticed as a reader. I recently finished a lovely story that had way too many "she began to" or "she started to," rather than simply stating the actions.

  17. I did appreciate Nicola's comment, LoRee!

    You know, I've noticed that kind of thing in books too, and it always pulls me right out of the story. Excessive dialogue tags bother me when I'm reading too.

  18. These are great tips, thanks for sharing.

  19. You're welcome, Toyin - thanks for stopping by!

  20. Stopped in via the All About Books group...love the Q&A segment and am chuckling at the TMI subject.

    I write with full bodied verbosity and in curbing my excessess, I have been writing flash fiction and other word limit short stories. I wrote a short story on what to do with Zpegs, an invention that starts as a pearl size sphere but can be and do anything. My story tells of what a frugal woman would do with a 'Zpegs'; one of my readers told me it was not enough story...here is the link: http://www.bookrix.com/_title-en-paula-shene-born-a-zpegs

  21. Thanks for writing in, Paula. I've never head of Zpegs. Now, I've got to check that out. And I'm curious about what flash fiction is.
    So glad you enjoyed your visit here at A Pen for Your Thoughts. Please come around...anytime. We look forward to hearing your thoughts again.