February 6th, 2008
Writerly Wednesday – Clean up the Laundry Lists

Writerly Wednesday

The last several manuscripts I’ve edited have suffered from what I call the “Laundry List Syndrome” so I thought I’d take a moment to mention it here.

A laundry list is when an author tries to mention a whole lot of things at once instead of dribbling them in a little at a time. In some cases it appears as part of an info-dump but sometimes it just appears out of the blue.

As an example, here’s a laundry list:

    The stranger turned around and she couldn’t believe her eyes: black hair, blue eyes, a strong chin, a nose with a slight crook to the side and tanned cheeks dusted with a dark five o’clock shadow.

The author in this laundry list is merely dumping out facts. It’s dry and the reader tends to just skim over it.

It would be much more effective to give each of these facts individual emphasis. It makes it more enjoyable to read and more memorable as well.

Try this in contrast:

    The dark haired stranger turned around and she couldn’t believe her eyes. His glossy black hair curled around his tanned face in waves that made her fingers itch to smooth it back. Piercing cobalt eyes were framed by lush black lashes, the darkness echoed in the hint of razor stubble dusting his strong chin. Only the slight bump and crooked slant of a long-ago broken nose saved his face from being too pretty.

I’d usually space it out more than that and I realize it’s not the best paragraph ever, but look how much more memorable it is than the laundry list?

One magic clue to an imminent laundry list is using a colon… If you find yourself using a colon, ask yourself why and if there is a better way to present the information you are about to list.

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