When I was a kid, I loved Dr. Seuss. I liked everything he wrote, but my favorite was Fox in Socks. I’ve always been a sucker for tongue twisters, and that fox really had a few zingers. There are still a couple I stumble over.
When I became a parent, I read his collection to my kids. Their favorite was The Lorax. I read it so often, I think I can still quote most, if not all, of it by heart. It has a poignant message, and it was delivered in such a Seussical way, I really don’t mind.
Now my kids think they’re beyond Dr. Seuss, although we still watch The Grinch Who Stole Christmas every winter. So you would think my Seuss days are over. But you’d be wrong. Theodor Geisel wrote about writing, and one of my favorite and inspirational quotes is by him:
“So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.”
Yes, it’s another childhood rhyme, but that just makes it easier to remember. And it’s a phrase we writers should take to heart.
How often have you been immersed in a novel only to wonder why the author has spent sentences, paragraphs, even pages describing something when a few words would have sufficed, or even worse, when the information could have been omitted altogether? Poetic phrases have their place, but that place isn’t in a novel. Save the purple prose for the poetry books. Fiction has come a long way since the classics were written. Every word must now have a practical purpose or it must not be allowed to stay in the novel.
Frankly, I’m not sure the effusive description served even the classics well. I swear I read a four-page description of a ladder in Moby Dick before Ishmael ever set foot on the ship. Perhaps Melville could have benefitted from listening to Dr. Seuss. I’m not saying I’m in Melville’s league, but I know I’ve learned a thing or two from Dr. Seuss. I didn’t learn anything from Melville.
If you aren’t into Seuss-style whimsical poetry, take some advice from William Faulkner. “Kill your darlings.”