When we chat with others, we typically use a lot of details to describe things. That’s fine because we use body language and voice inflection to give others clues as to what’s important. But when writing, adding too many unnecessary details can be tedious to wade through. Here’s how to eliminate excess details and keep readers’ attention!
My brown-and-white dog, Boomerang, jumped up and caught the fluorescent yellow Frisbee that my friend Gable threw about ten feet in the air thinking Boomerang couldn’t leap that high, but he is a high jumper and caught it easily, then brought it to me with his tail wagging happily.
Whew, that’s a long sentence with a lot of extra detail. What’s most important? It depends on what you want the reader to know. 🙂 Look at these tightened-up versions to see three different angles of focus:
- Option 1: My dog, Boomerang, jumped about ten feet in the air and caught the Frisbee my friend threw.
(I want you to know how high my dog can jump.)
- Option 2: My friend threw a Frisbee about ten feet in the air, but my dog still caught it.
(I want you to know my friend unsuccessfully tried to throw a Frisbee too high for my dog to catch.)
- Option 3: My dog, Boomerang, is such a high jumper that no matter how high or far my friend throws a Frisbee, he always catches it.
(I want you to know my dog catches every Frisbee, no matter how high.)
By focusing on only the most important details, each sentence is simple to read. Notice all of the details we don’t need to know: the color of the dog, the color of the Frisbee, and that the dog brought it back with his tail wagging.
Let’s improve some other extra-wordy examples. 😉
“You’d better get out of here now,” Cassie warned Rex while peeking through the bent, dirty window slats while Rex scratched his head trying to decide whether to stay put or flee as he eyed the small black gun in her over-the-body gun holster and wondered if he could get to it in time, and if he did, if he could defend them both against the evil gangsters headed their way.
Let’s tighten up that entire scene.
“You’d better get out now,” Cassie warned Rex while peeking through the window slats.
Rex wondered if he should stay or flee. He eyed the gun in her holster. Could he get to it in time? If he did, could he defend them both against the gangsters?
I split that extremely long description into five concise sentences. Each one focuses on one main point. I also left out all of the unnecessary details. Now the story is much easier to read and follow.
My Hawaiian vacation was not what I expected after seeing all the brochures depicting people lounging on sandy beaches, snorkeling in the ocean, and going to colorful luaus, but it was especially great and unforgettable because I discovered a lot of unique activities and experiences that I didn’t even know existed, thanks to a guy named Kaeo I met on the beach one humid Saturday afternoon who took me to a bunch of the local hangouts and secret hot spots that regular tourists wouldn’t know about, and now I can’t wait to go back again!
Again, there’s a lot of extra detail in there that we don’t need to know. It’s difficult to read, and too much of this kind of writing will make a reader tune out. So let’s fix it by focusing solely on the main points and cutting the rest.
My Hawaiian vacation turned out much differently than what I expected from the brochures. It was great because I met a guy named Kaeo on the beach who took me to the locals’ hangouts and secret hot spots. I had so many unique and fun experiences that I can’t wait to go back!
The next thing we should read is each of those experiences—in simple, focused sentences.
Savvy Writer Tip:
When we talk or write, it’s easy to include a lot of unnecessary details. However, a reader can easily get bogged down with excessive details. Always review your writing. Identify the main points, then state each one simply. Savvy writing is clear and easy for readers to follow! 🙂