Monday, May 16, 2016

Are You Guilty of Overstating?

 
The view from my front porch. :)

5 Questions 

To celebrate the grand re-opening of the Coffeehouse for Writers, Jennifer Brown Banks is spotlighting the instructors in a 5 Questions series on her blog, Pen and Prosper. I have the privilege of teaching the Boot Camp for Writers, so I'm featured in this post.  I invite you to stop by if you have a moment. :) 
 

Overstating, Are You Guilty?

Strunk and White had this to say in The Elements of Style:

“Do not overstate. When you overstate, the reader will be instantly on guard, and everything that has preceded your overstatement as well as everything that follows it will be suspect in his mind because he has lost confidence in your judgment or your poise.

Overstatement is one of the common faults. A single overstatement, wherever or however it occurs, diminishes the whole, and a single carefree superlative has the power to destroy, for the reader, the object of the writer’s enthusiasm.” 


I must admit, overstating puts me off. You might say it's one of my grammar pet peeves. For example, I cringe when I get an email that includes something like this: 

"I KNOW you’ll AGREE with ME WHEN I SAY that WE MUST put an END to THESE ATROCITIES."

Why must we shout? Isn't it more civilized to simply say, 

"We must stop the atrocities."

Is it just me, or is the extreme capital emphasis distracting? My interest in the message wanes, and I feel like I'm being coerced into taking it seriously and pressured into embracing the cause. Making a point is necessary and commendable, but there is a better way to achieve respected, professional results. As Strunk and White state, overemphasis "diminishes the whole". 

The exclamation mark also suffers from overuse. Its true purpose of course, is for commands or exclamations, like: 

Stop, thief!  or Your book was published, hooray!  or I haven't had my coffee yet! 
                         
It works for informal correspondence like in social media, emails, texts, or blog comments. But I've noticed their generous use elsewhere and I wonder, how excitement worthy are these statements? Are we shouting and exclaiming when simply stating will do? 

One veteran writer's take on the subject advised counting the number of exclamation marks in a piece. He then said to eliminate all but one and to prudently consider even the lone remainder. He asked, is such emphasis necessary? I thought this advice interesting; it now factors in to my editing process.

And since we're on the topic, there's the obvious overstating with excess words and modifiers. When revising and editing I'm on the lookout for extras like very and really, and repetitive phrases such as free gift.

While there is a place for using all caps, exclamation marks, and even bold and italicized print, I believe a good balance equals better communication. Well chosen prose combined with class and common sense never goes out of style.  

What do you think? Do you agree with Strunk and White? What grammar mishaps make you cringe

If you have time, don't forget to stop by Pen and Prosper for my interview. Thanks so much!   

I'm taking a break for a few weeks, but will return on June 6 with an interview with author Sarah Sundin. Enjoy the remainder of May
 
Happy writing,
Karen :)



Photo credit: Karen Lange

31 comments :

  1. I have known about too many exclamation points since I started writing, so I try to avoid them. My pet peeve is that some established writers get to break these rules like not to use -ly words or to not tell and show instead so much, but we newbies can't.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yeah, I'm guilty of too many exclamation points. I did ease back in my writing though.
    My pet peeve will always be too much description.

    ReplyDelete
  3. In all fairness, this one needs an exclamation point " I haven't had my coffee yet!" snicker :)

    ReplyDelete
  4. I leave my exclamation marks for my text, messages, and comments. Generally, an exclamation mark follows my "thanks!" or "thank you!" I want it apparent that I truly am grateful.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I've been accused of creating spare or lean prose. Maybe I'm on the other end of the writing spectrum. I do prefer the "less is better" in writing. I'm not a fan of say, the Flaming Sword style which I think is a cousin of the Overstating style.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Natalie,
    It does seem like a double standard sometimes, doesn't it? So we just plug along, working hard and avoiding exclamation marks. lol :)

    Alex,
    Too much description can blog things down, I agree. I use exclamation marks most often in blog comments, but to me that's different than in writing for publication, you know? :)

    Holly,
    Oh totally for the coffee thing. I mean, that's a regular emergency, right? Kind of like when I am out of unsweetened iced tea. :)

    Joylene,
    That's a good guideline. Like I told Alex, I use them informally mostly. You're right, they do help convey the sentiment in instances like that. :)

    Lee,
    Yeah, I guess you can hit the end of the spectrum too. The balance is tricky. This is why we get paid the big bucks, right? :)

    Happy writing,
    Karen

    ReplyDelete
  7. Overuse of the exclamation mark...that was me, until I became aware. Now, I scatter it liberally in my status updates and comments on social networks or informal notes, communication and such things.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hi Karen - I overstate when I'm talking and when I write up some of my posts or comments ... but I'm relating to bloggers, whom I feel I know. Come publishing something I'd tone it down ---- I think!! Cheers and see you at Jennifers - Hilary

    ReplyDelete
  9. Guilty, for sure! Oh, I just did it again... the exclamation mark :)

    ReplyDelete
  10. I edit out really and very. Overstating does seem unnecessary and there are better ways to express the sentiments. Too many exclamation marks bother me.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Joy,
    social media can be different, I think, and I use them more often there too. I wonder if we are trying to make sure that we aren't misunderstood or that our tone is misread. They can be a help in that respect, you know? :)

    Hilary,
    Those instances are different, I agree. Like I mentioned to Joy, we want to make sure our tone, etc. comes off pleasantly. What is it about them in print for regular writing that makes them seem overbearing at times? Or maybe I just don't like feeling coerced. LOL :)

    Marja,
    Ha- well, I've done that too! LOL I was typing on Facebook and another blog's comment section and realized I used several of them. Ah well, they have their place in the right spot. :)

    Medeia,
    Over time I know I've gotten better at keeping overstating at bay in my writing. Always something to edit in the process. :)

    Happy writing,
    Karen

    ReplyDelete
  12. I definitely agree with this in general, but when I write humor, I like to use hyperbole for a laugh. If I say the prices at our favorite restaurant have increased, you might sympathize a bit. But if I tell you that they're now charging for water, toothpicks and napkins, and you have to BYOC (bring your own candles), I've made my point more comical.
    I realize I can't use this in my DEVOTIONAL WRITING, or you'd not trust me.
    And I unsubscribe to email senders that shout at me in ALL CAPS. UGGGGGHHHHH!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Jen,
    Well, I think that humor has its own rules for overstating, since without it, some humor would just fall flat. So you take it and run, girl! LOL It's all about balance and knowing the audience. I guess I should have clarified that. All caps - yeah, that gets ME TOO!! :)
    Happy writing,
    Karen

    ReplyDelete
  14. Hi Karen - Overstating something is a good way to make your readers roll their eyes. In a novel, it pulls them out of the story faster than any pov infraction or head hopping. Thanks for a great article. I'll be linking to it in one of my Weekend Potpourri posts.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Karen,
    Thanks for the mention of Coffeehouse for Writers & Pen and Prosper. Funny thing about the exclamation point. Many years ago, an editor who purchased my pieces on a regular basis, and loved my work, gave me a "lashing" about my use of exclamation points. Imagine that!!! I use them because I am often excited when I express myself in real life and in written form. Though I don't use them in excess, it's part of my expressive style; I do the same thing with smiley faces! :-)

    ReplyDelete
  16. I think any time there's an extreme of emotion on the page, it's wise to closely evaluate how to present it. I really haven't seen much overstating, other than in social media. Maybe it's the genres I read?

    ReplyDelete
  17. I just read this section out loud to students in my college prep writing class, so I found it humorous/ironic to see it here. Maybe someone is trying to tell me something? I have a tendency to overuse exclamation points in blog posts and comments.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Susan,
    I'm flattered that you will use this in one of your posts. Thank you! :) It really takes a good balance, doesn't it?

    Jen,
    You are welcome. :) It's my pleasure. You know, I think in some ways a balanced use becomes ones' style. And you use discretion and wisdom when you write, so it's all good.

    Crystal,
    It really is tricky as to how to get the message off to the writer without tipping the scales, isn't it? I see it in books occasion, and in blog posts fairly often, but maybe your favorite genre already has a good balance. That's a good thing, I'm thinking. :)

    Tyrean,
    Well, great minds do think alike, you know. :) It's one thing to use them when making a point in social media, even blog posts, for we are trying to make a certain point on a certain platform. I am sure you strike a good balance in your books.

    Happy writing,
    Karen

    ReplyDelete
  19. I do agree with Strunk and White. And poorly used caps, as in your example, are a sure turn off for me. I will use an occasional exclamation mark without shame (wink) but I'm more cautious about it than I used to be. Great post, Karen! (Sorry, couldn't help myself). :0)

    ReplyDelete
  20. Haha, yesss!! In informal things, I use the exclamation point a lot. I try not to use them much in my novels. Otherwise, it gets to sounding melodramatic REALLY fast; I notice them a lot in others' writing. I think I'm a bit guilty of wanting to italicize in order to emphasize words, though...I have to edit some of them out later! :)

    ReplyDelete
  21. Susan,
    No shame, it's there for a reason! Lol :) Caution and balance, yes, you are right.

    Carol,
    Good thing we have the editing process to keep us in check, right? :) No big drama, all with a good balance.

    Happy writing,
    Karen

    ReplyDelete
  22. I have some friends who REALLY overstate when they are writing me an email or text...it makes me a little uncomfortable sometimes LOL

    ReplyDelete
  23. I agree with S&W, although I'm certain I'm guilty of overusing the exclamation point, especially in private correspondence or on social media. I try to watch out for it, but I'm sure I don't always catch myself.

    ReplyDelete
  24. I'm quite spare these (!!!) in my writing. I seldom use ALL CAPS, either. It truly does diminish your message; they're right about that. It's a good reminder for me, though, as I choose my words. Thank you for that.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Of course, I see overwriting all the time--repeated details, adjectives or adverbs that are completely unnecessary. Not so much overstating.

    ReplyDelete
  26. As one who doesn't like being told what to do, especially repeatedly, overstating is irritating and bothersome! I remember being mentored to watch out for those words ending in 'ly.' Thanks for the reminder!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lynn,
      Yes, I am not crazy about being told what to do in that manner either. You are welcome. It's something ongoing for me, so thought maybe others might relate. :)
      Happy weekend,
      Karen

      Delete
  27. Keith,
    It's a matter of preference, I know, but it always helps to consider it from the reader's side. Course, if you like overstating, well...lol

    Lisa,
    I think private conversation and some social media (like personal stuff) is somewhat different, you know? :)

    Rhonda,
    All caps, yeah, that does really get to me. lol You're welcome. I'm checking myself for overstating. :)

    Crystal,
    Yes, me too, and the editor in me wants to fix it. Ah well, we do what we can with our own writing, eight? :)

    Happy writing,
    Karen

    ReplyDelete
  28. I know I use to many exclamation points in my informal correspondence and comments on blogs. I try to be aware of it and limit them, but I often fail. In my writing it isn't a problem- thank goodness. I do work on not overstating. It is a challenge for me, but I am getting better. :)
    ~Jess

    ReplyDelete
  29. Your thoughts on the exclamation mark reminds me of when I worked in a library. The children's librarian (a doctor of education) asked me to proofread a letter she wrote to send to businesses in the area about the upcoming children's reading program. In the letter, she had at least three exclamation points. When I returned the copy to her I told her to get rid of them. She said she used them to show excitement. I told her they made her letter look unprofessional. We remained friends until I had to stop working there.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Jess,
    I think in the "friendly writing" places, like texts and comments it's a way to express yourself better, but in the formal stuff it's good to take care. At least, that's what I try to do. :)

    Cecelia,
    You male a good point with the professional aspect. It's always good to consider balance, the audience, etc. I think your advice was probably on target there. :)

    Happy writing,
    Karen

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for stopping by! I appreciate your input. Have a blessed day!