More is Less
So I just discovered The Eye of Argon, written by Jim Theis in 1970, when Theis was 16 years old. It’s a heroic fantasy novella and considered to be some of the worst writing in fantasy.
Considering he was 16, it’s not bad. I figure it’s a brilliant example of overwriting, a study in obscure adjectives and unnecessary adverbs. Don’t worry, excerpts are coming.
The Eye of Argon follows the journey of the warrior, Gringr, who spends much of the story trying to escape the king’s dungeon. It’s evolved into a popular game at Sci Fi conventions, namely to see how long a person can read it without laughing. To Theis’s credit, there’s not much I wrote at age 16 that I’d want anyone reading aloud. But here it goes.
The opening paragraph (typos left in from the original):
The weather beaten trail wound ahead into the dust racked climes of the baren land which dominates large portions of the Norgolian empire. Age worn hoof prints smothered by the sifting sands of time shone dully against the dust splattered crust of earth. The tireless sun cast its parching rays of incandescense from overhead, half way through its daily revolution. Small rodents scampered about, occupying themselves in the daily accomplishments of their dismal lives. Dust sprayed over three heaving mounts in blinding clouds, while they bore the burdonsome cargoes of their struggling overseers.
Adjective/Adverb Count: 17 (18% of the text)
Notable problem: The state of the trail. Weather beaten, and age worn hoof prints implies hard-packed dirt. Yet it’s also apparently very sandy and dusty (4 references).
Then a little further into the first chapter, a battle is underway, apparently between the riders of the three heaving mounts. Don’t ask me who is who.
A gleaming scimitar smote a heavy blow against the renegade's spiked helmet, bringing a heavy cloud over the Ecordian's misting brain. Shaking off the effects of the pounding blow to his head, Grignr brought down his scarlet streaked edge against the soldier's crudely forged hauberk, clanging harmlessly to the left side of his opponent. The soldier's stead whinnied as he directed the horse back from the driving blade of the barbarian. Grignr leashed his mount forward as the hoarsely piercing battle cry of his wilderness bred race resounded from his grinding lungs. A twirling blade bounced harmlessly from the mighty thief's buckler as his rolling right arm cleft upward, sending a foot of blinding steel ripping through the Simarian's exposed gullet. A gasping gurgle from the soldier's writhing mouth as he tumbled to the golden sand at his feet, and wormed agonizingly in his death bed.
Adjective/Adverb count: 27-ish (lost count a few times) (18% of text – he’s consistent)
Notable problem: Who’s the Ecordian, renegade, barbarian, and Simarian? Same person? What is a misting brain and is that something you can shake off? Exactly how many people are in this scene and who am I supposed to root for?
I don’t bring this up to make fun of Theis, but rather to point out that good writing is not a function of filling up sentences with as many words as possible. Adjectives and adverbs often become crutches for ineffective nouns and verbs. So use them sparingly and use them well. Good writing happens when less produces more, not the other way around.
If you’re interested in reading more, The Eye of Argon has been published by Wildside Books, or you can find it online at http://www-users.cs.york.ac.uk/~susan/sf/eyeargon/eyeargon.htm