You Can Have Too Much of a Good Thing – 3 Techniques Prone to Overuse

No matter how good or effective a writing technique is, it can be overused.  Take Show versus Tell for example.  Showing should be your default method of storytelling, but, if you show too much, you risk bogging the reader down in unnecessary detail.

A writer needs to be particularly careful with any technique used to add emotion or emphasis.  If you stress a sentence in a chapter, it stands out.  If you stress a sentence in every paragraph, not only do those sentences lose impact, but you annoy the reader.

Here are three techniques that are prone to overuse and should be applied sparingly:

  1. The semicolon – If you separate two independent clauses with a semicolon, you’re signaling that these are two sentences are closely related.  Done correctly, this slight emphasis can bring out an important plot point.  Overuse, however, just makes the writer look like an amateur who doesn’t know when emphasis should be added.
  2. Phrases tacked on with a comma – The writer needs to develop a deft hand with phrasing, to understand what each word and punctuation mark means.  Using a comma with a phrase, whether participial or prepositional, can make a statement seem more dramatic, and, used sparingly, can be effective.  Overuse makes the writing seem melodramatic.
  3. Using names inside dialogue – In general, a character referring to another character by name inside dialogue sounds stilted and unnatural.  If the author only uses the technique in times of great anguish, however, it can add just that extra bit of emotion.

Bonus Pet Peeve:

  • Then – The vast, vast majority of the time, “then” is an unnecessary word.  Stories are told sequentially.  Take, “Bob walked down the street.  He turned left.”  The reader understands that Bob turned left after walking down the street.  Writing, “Bob walked down the street.  Then, he turned left” adds nothing.

Are there any techniques that you see overused?


5 thoughts on “You Can Have Too Much of a Good Thing – 3 Techniques Prone to Overuse

  1. The things you have mentioned slip into my writing – though I know better. It is always good to review these points – thanks. I would add a peeve about the overuse of such words as – very, really, just (an all time no-no of mine). Almost all of the time – unnecessary.

    • Francis,

      I don’t necessarily think any of these, except “then,” should be banned from your writing. Almost anything will work in moderation.

      Adverbs are definitely something I could have added to my list.

      Thanks for the comment.


  2. I agree with Francis about just. Another word that tends to clutter up your writing is “that”. Use it on the first draft to keep your thoughts flowing freely, but go back on the second draft and decide if you really need them. A lot of times they are redundant.

    • Good point.

      For “that” and any adverb, try reading the sentence with the word removed. If the meaning of the sentence isn’t changed, delete the word.

      Thanks for the comment!


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