Don’t State the Obvious

Sheenah Archive, Writing Advice 0 Comments

Every now and then I enjoy grabbing one of my books on writing and flipping through them to refresh myself. I just so happened to be re-organizing my bookshelves and came across my copy of The Writer’s Little Helper. I flipped through it and eureka! Found myself a writing blog topic.

Today we’re going to discuss about stating the obvious. Words like obviously, naturally, or of course. My suggestion: Don’t use them. If you see the word in your manuscript delete it now. (Using such words in dialogue is perfectly okay, though.) The words are too tongue-in-cheek and often the author’s presence becomes known. As an author, I know you want to be heard. Trust me. But your writing isn’t the place to be talking to your readers. Unless you’re writing a blog… Or something. But your writing is the place where your fictional world should be the star. Don’t pull your reader out of that world even for a millisecond by stating the obvious.

Now you might think I’m crazy. You might say, “I’ve seen big name authors use obviously. Who are you to tell me that I shouldn’t?” Then it’s become obvious that you’ve fallen down the rabbit hole.

Let’s take a look at some examples, shall we?

“I hate you!” Mary slammed the door before Dillon could utter another word. Obviously, she was angry.

Tell me how annoying it is to read that last sentence. Do you really need the author to nudge you and state the obvious? To me, it feels like by stating the obvious, the author doesn’t trust the reader enough to understand that Mary is angry at Dillon. Readers are a smart bunch of people. You don’t need to dummy it down and spoon feed them to get them to understand what you’re trying to convey. Either that, or the author doesn’t have enough confidence in themselves to believe that they can effectively write a coherent sentence and feel it’s necessary to state what they were trying to convey. Don’t be that author. I’m begging you.

Naturally, Dillon stayed outside of Mary’s door, waiting for her to cool down.

We know nothing about Dillon’s character so how do we know that this is natural behavior? And even if we were given more information about Dillon, how annoying is it to read over the word, naturally? The sentence is fine without the word. Again, it feels like the author is sitting beside you and saying, “Well, duh. Of course he would do this.”

Mary stared at the door, her anger subsiding. Of course she would apologize and of course he would forgive her. It was obvious that they were destined to be together.

Curve ball! Depending on your style and how quirky/sweet/chick-lit-y your novel is, I could let this slide. Partly because the example used obvious instead of obviously and for some reason, obvious isn’t as annoying. But don’t get me wrong. It’s still annoying. But the author could just as easily rephrase everything to make it un-annoying.

Mary stared at the door, her anger subsiding. She knew she would apologize and he would forgive her. They were destined to be together. Everyone said so.

See? With a little rephrasing and rearranging, one can convey the exact same message without stating the obvious! You won’t cause your readers to cringe and you won’t cause me to cry.

Sometimes authors feel it’s necessary to state the obvious in other ways. There are no keywords involved here. These kind of statements usually come after an author shows these wonderful scenes and then ruins them by summarizing everything that happened in one sentence. It irks me and makes me want to bash my head into my the book. Or my iPad, depending on what format I’m reading in. (I really need a Kindle to spare my eyes.)

Dillon’s heart was racing. Was this the right thing to do? They had just had a fight. Were they really going to be forever? His eyes glanced at the glittering gems in the cases. A saleswoman smiled at him knowingly; she had seen many men like him. He wiped his sweaty palms on his jeans and swallowed hard. He was definitely nervous.

That last sentence hurts me. Every. Single. Time. It’s unneeded. The reader is picking up your clues and becoming engrossed in your world. Everyone has been nervous about something at one point or another. Though not everyone has the same symptoms, everyone recognizes them. Here you are, showing how beautifully you can write a scene and making the reader feel what your character is feeling and then BAM. You decide to summarize everything you’ve written. This one isn’t as glaringly obvious (see what I did, there?) as using our enemy keywords and because of that, it isn’t as annoying. You actually see more of these kinds of statements in novels than the other examples.

It’s okay if you already have something published with these little mistakes. (Lie to me and tell me you didn’t overdo it.) I know I slip up sometimes and it wouldn’t surprise me to find the last example in my debut novel. As authors, we need to learn the amateur mistakes in order to better ourselves. Michelangelo didn’t start painting masterpieces and you won’t start writing a masterpiece right off the bat. Now go out there, look at your manuscript, and start rewriting. You’ll thank me later.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *