Thursday, November 6, 2008

UP, DOWN, ALL AROUND; Directional Crutches

Have you ever stopped a stranger on the street to ask for directions and then wished you hadn’t? More than once I’ve been unfortunate enough to ask someone for help who is extremely happy to direct me on the long and circuitous route. During their lengthy and confusing diatribe, my head starts spinning in every direction except the one I want to go. It takes all my energy to suppress the urge to slap them in order to get them to stop. This is much the feeling a reader gets when a writer fills the pages of a good story with unnecessary direction. Directional crutches, as I like to call them, are a problem most of us unconsciously do. We try so hard to keep our readers moving in the right direction we sometimes become oblivious to the obvious.

The concept of over-direction is simple really. Most movements or motions our characters do can speak for themselves and really don’t need any direction thrown in for good measure. For instance, consider the following sentence:

Margaret sat down in the chair to ponder her situation.

The directional crutch here is the word “down”. The simple fact that Margaret sat, states the obvious. When she did so, it was in a downward direction. Therefore, use of the word “down” is not needed. The sentence should simply read:

Margaret sat in the chair to ponder her situation.

If most of your story is peppered with directional crutches similar to the one mentioned above, it can become an irritating nuisance to the reader, making them feel as though you’re talking down to them. Remember, your readers aren’t brainless and they don’t need your help understanding simple concepts. By removing these needless crutches, your text will read stronger and easier. Not to mention a lowered word count! Here are a few more examples:

Ed went out to the porch to have a smoke.

Gordon stood up and brushed the dirt from his pants.

Maria turned around in circles until she was dizzy.

In the first one, Ed goes out to the porch. If he was in the house prior, then it is obvious he went “out” in order to get to the porch. The word “out” is pointless and can be cut.

In the next one, Gordon stood to brush dirt from his pants. If he was in a crouched or kneeling position to begin with, then when he stands it can be assumed he does so in an upward motion. Use of the word “up” is needless and can be deleted.

In Maria’s instance, she is turning in circles. Since, when in the act of doing circles, it is assumed you are moving “around” in a circular manner, it is not necessary to point that out to the reader. This is another directional crutch that can be stricken from the text. The new and improved sentences should read like this:

Ed went to the porch to have a smoke.

Gordon stood and brushed the dirt from his pants.

Maria turned circles until she was dizzy.

As you have likely figured out by now, there is often no need to state the obvious in your writing. Give the reader some credit and let their imaginations be guided by your words. Be creative, be intense, but stick to the point. Tell a good story in a simple manner and your readers will come back for more. Don’t worry, they’ll find their way.

-Niki Schoenfeldt

1 comment:

  1. You know I agree, girl. Using those powerful verbs eliminates the need for directional words and those pesky -lys, too.

    :-) Jean


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