too much of a good thing is a bad thing

It seems to me that society becomes increasingly more obsessed with what isn’t in products than what is. One only has walk the supermarket aisles. Labels scream at you: no fat, no cholesterol, no gluten, no artificial colours, no added sugar, no salt, and on a bottle of hair conditioner I saw one hadn’t seen before: no silicone.

While all those things (except perhaps the silicone in hair conditioner) have been shown to be harmful in quantity, it seems to me that we seem to succumb to a culture of blaming a single thing for all that’s wrong in our lives. If only we omitted fat, sugar, cholesterol, salt, etc etc then we’d be healthy and happy.

But, surprise, surprise, in small amounts fat, sugars, salt, and even cholesterol are essential components of our diet. Cutting them out altogether will lead to a much poorer diet except for those proven allergic to the component in question.

Everything in moderation.

It strikes me that this is much like writing.

Writers are often told to cut adverbs, cut adjectives, cut reliance on the word ‘was’, or cut out all instances of a list of ‘forbidden’ words, a list which usually includes the words ‘suddenly’ and ‘that’.

You know what is worse than a piece of fiction where the word ‘was’ occurs at least once every sentence? One in which it doesn’t occur at all.

All these words, structures and verb forms have developed in the language for a reason. That means that occasionally you need them. In other occasions, the offending piece of text can be avoided only by mangling the sentence to such extent it becomes laughable. This tends to happen when writers become overly obsessed with cutting out ‘passive’ writing. Even passive tense has a function and that means sometimes a sentence using passive tense will be infinitely better than one without.

A piece of writing with no ‘telling’ may well include long boring passages that would be better covered in a few sentences.

So while these ‘rules’ are good practice, don’t follow them off a cliff, OK?

That said, I’m still baffled as to why people worry about silicone in hair conditioner.

9 comments on “too much of a good thing is a bad thing

  1. Great advice! I’ve insisted on moderation in things for a long time, but being unpublished seems to render my opinion irrelevant.

    And at the risk of undermining your punchline, silicone build up from hair products actually makes the hair appear greasier over time, so I’d hazard that’s probably why it was on there 😀

    • OK, that could make sense. I’d then pose that those whose hair is made t look greasy by the application of conditioner probably don’t need to be using the stuff in the first place. Ah–but the manufacturers won’t admit to that, of course.

  2. I liked your blog. I am newly published and I can tell you I am a “that” person. I usually go though and write my chapters and then go back and take out the unnessary verbage. I can’t believe how often “that” is used in my sentences. I don’t feel I talk that way but I really don’t know. I just don’t stop and think about if I am speaking or writing “that”. I have learned so much over the past few months and I am sure I will never know it all. I think that is called a learning Process 🙂

  3. Wow, great post. Great point about moderation. It’s amazing how often I hear people screaming ‘adverb!’, and then later that day read a fine piece of fiction by a revered writer that is filled with adverbs, instances of ‘was,’ et cetera. Everything in small doses.

    • I am of the personal opinion that a piece of writing can be killed both by overuse of a certain word or structure, or by its total absence.

  4. Awesome post. I totally agree with your argument. Everything in moderation is my approach to editing 🙂

    One tool I find really handy is the AutoCrit Editing Wizard. It alerts you when you have used “too many” LY adverbs or ‘was/were’ (etc), but doesn’t bother you if you’ve just used them occasionally.

    It’s really handy as quick check to make sure I haven’t lapsed into extensive telling or too much backstory 🙂

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