"The fire of his anger was a flood that was all-consuming, and the anger spilled out in full force, because he was angry with the greatest of furies."
All right, perhaps that's an exaggeration. But seriously, it does happen. And before the author knows it, their WIP (Work In Progress, for those who spent years looking at this abbreviation in bewilderment like I did) has climbed to an outrageous length. A book that should have finished by the 90,000 word mark is now 140,000. Something that really only needed 70,000 or 80,000 words is 120,000 or 130,000. The author sends it around to friends and family, and people struggle to read it. And after they've finished, they're not asking for the next one ... which is always a bad sign. The author has a couple of options here: they can completely rewrite the draft, and hope to heaven they do better the second time; or they can edit the heck out of this one, and almost die trying to extract thirty to forty thousand words, syllable by syllable. Ouch.
Ideally, the author should be able tell, during the writing process, when they are going overboard. Wordiness is simply a form of laziness or egotism. That sounds harsh, but I feel I'm able to say this, as I have struggled with the same crime. And when I have, it's been because I couldn't be bothered thinking of a better way to say what I just said - or it's because I really liked the way I said it.
So how can the author prevent wordiness before it's too late? Here are a couple of signs that things are getting out of hand.
1. It's clever.
Recently, I watched a movie that was really clever. It was about a group of magicians who did the most amazing tricks, stealing money from banks and baffling authorities. There was zero character growth throughout the movie, and the plot, as a result, fell flat. But it was a clever movie. It was really, really clever. And I wouldn't watch it again, and I wouldn't buy it.
People don't choose to read or watch a story simply because it's clever. In fact, often 'cleverness' dwarves particular aspects of the story and makes it less enjoyable. Ultimately, your story should be human, and the average person should be able to relate to it. Therefore, if you find yourself writing something like the following, you know you're on the wrong track:
"He sallied out of door in the habiliments that associated him with the corps which protected the mortals belonging to his nation."
Why not just say:
"He strode outside in his army uniform."
What's so wrong about that? Okay, maybe it sounds simple ... dry. It's still writing though. It doesn't have to be super clever to be writing.
Incidentally, a book isn't a group of clever sentences that stand on their own. It's a body of art that takes the reader on a journey. If your sentences are all so clever, chances are that it reads more like a book of quotes than a good novel. Think you're clever? Save it for later. Turn a witty sentence into a poem. Create a character who uses such pompous language. But don't clutter up your story by stroking your ego.
2. That felt like a lot of syllables.
If you read over a sentence and find yourself having to go back to the beginning to make sense of it, maybe it was too long. If you read it out loud and feel like the syllables are really stacking up, perhaps there's something you should do to condense the meaning. For example, here's part of something I was editing recently:
"While the Lashki seemed desperate for Rafen to side with him – and Rafen still couldn’t think at all why – he wasn’t going to be desperate enough to be going to believe something improbable."
Lots of small syllables make this sentence a mouthful. I fixed it like this:
"While the Lashki seemed desperate for Rafen to side with him – and Rafen still couldn’t think why – he wasn’t desperate enough to believe something improbable."
It's much better, and it doesn't feel long and complicated to the reader.
There are tricks you learn as a writer. "Going to be" can often be omitted or changed to "would". "Seemed to be" can be substituted with "seemed". "All at once" can become "suddenly" or "instantly". "In order to" is simplified to "to". "That" is often unnecessary. The list is endless.
Again, it may feel more like you're writing when you've got a lot to say. Save it for later. Use it in a legal contract; use it in an employee handbook; but don't use it in a novel.
In summary, write as simply as you can. Don't be unnecessarily clever. Don't be unnecessarily long. It shows respect and care for readers if you write in a concise manner - respect, because you're not being condescending or abstruse; and care because you're helping them make the most of their reading time. Save the wordiness for later - if you save it at all.