Everyone’s guilty of trying too hard when it comes to writing.
Trying too hard doesn’t mean “trying to succeed and use the best language,” it means, “I want the reader to feel or think something, but instead of playing with language I’m going to put it all out there.”
Often, the sentences that are try-hard seem out of place in the midst of normal prose.
We first learn how to do it when attempting to hit the word requirement for some college essay. We call it the fluff. The unnecessary. Now, before you think that that should fall under the ‘not trying hard enough’ category, think back.
You have 500 words missing from a 2000-word paper and you’ve gone back and added as much as you could. Now what? Not trying would cause you to leave it as is and cross your fingers that the professor doesn’t notice. (I’ve also done this. Thankfully it’s worked in my favor.)
But trying too hard is creating sentences that haven’t earned their space on the paper. They are often repetitive and overzealous with language. “Maybe if I use big words, they won’t notice I don’t know what I’m talking about.”
In fiction it’s a bit different. I did say we only first learned how to try too hard while writing essays.
Ever roll your eyes at something written in a book? The author was probably trying too hard. Like, in teen novels when two characters fall in love on page two. The author was trying too hard to make a cute couple and trying to speed up the story at the same time.
Sometimes trying too hard is being overly flowery or pushing an aspect into the story that doesn’t belong (but you want it to).
Most importantly, it’s when you don’t earn it. Want to use flowery words? You have to earn it by fashioning your story to not seem cheesy when those words pop up. Want something to happen in your story? Don’t force it, be patient.
Here’s my own example: “Death is the father of regret, the brother of sorrow, and the friend of anger.”
I will defend myself and say the line isn’t awful, but where I had it in my story was. First chapter, somewhere on the second page. I was trying so hard to convey a point that I hadn’t realized that it wasn’t earned.
My readers would have just met the main character–they aren’t invested yet. So, no matter how much I thought that line was powerful, it falls flat in a story where the reader isn’t invested in the character yet.
Trying too hard in poetry is another ballgame all together. Maybe I’ll talk about that one day when I learn how to stop trying so hard myself. Ha.