Too Much Frosting?

So, I was doing some editing (okay, so I can’t really edit myself, but I can re-read, can’t I?) and thinking thoughts as I did so, because clearly, merely re-reading to look for ways to improve wasn’t making my brain busy enough.

I started to visualize writing as a cake.

Now, one can write a good passage and it’s like a fine, round, yellow cake. Light, airy, uniform in color and texture. A sweet treat to meet the requirements of “dessert” or what-have-you. There is nothing wrong with a plain cake. It can be lovely with a cup of coffee or tea or a glass of milk. Perfect.

freshly baked cake on white background

freshly baked cake on white background

Sometimes, though, we want to create more. So we add icing. A nice, smooth, complementary icing that we can spread with whatever flourishes we wish over our yellow cake. This dresses up the dessert, makes it prettier, perhaps, and more elaborate. A lovely presentation that is appropriate for many venues.

Occasionally, however, we are called upon to do more. We might add decorative touches. Flowers. Elaborate edible scrollwork. Edible metallic additions that make the cake sparkle. Or we might get exotic and use unusual toppings or compote and make our cake a work of art.

And all of this is lovely. It is.

In our writing, this is true as well. Making a passage an elaborate work of art can be gorgeous and a true literary experience.

But sometimes, we might have too much icing. Too many ambitious turns of phrase. Too many coy references. An overabundance of . . . something. In small doses, as with dessert, such things can be appealing and tasty and lovely to consume as one reads. But used too often, and there is a surfeit for which one can lose appreciation as the story goes on.

Sometimes, the most effective way of telling a story is just to tell it without decoration. To use strong verbs without a lot of pretty adverbs. To use names and basic pronouns. To use solid ingredients to let the flavor of the story reach the reader without a lot of interference.

And sometimes, it’s good to decorate.

A first draft is not the time to think about these things, for those friends of mine trying to finish a draft or those who are working on their NaNoWriMo project this year. A first draft is to get the words out. Get to The End. Get it done.

But later, when you read your work over, consider your presentation. Do you have too much frosting on the cake?