Standing beneath this serene sky, overlooking these broad fields now reposing from the labors of the waning year, the mighty Alleghenies dimly towering before us, the graves of our brethren beneath our feet, it is with hesitation that I raise my poor voice to break the eloquent silence of God and Nature...Two hours later, he ended with this:
But they, I am sure, will join us in saying, as we bid farewell to the dust of these martyr-heroes, that wheresoever throughout the civilized world the accounts of this great warfare are read, and down to the latest period of recorded time, in the glorious annals of our common country, there will be no brighter page than that which relates the Battles of Gettysburg.Soaring rhetoric, right? But there's a reason no one remembers that carefully crafted and well-delivered speech. Because Everett's elaborate words were immediately overshadowed by the simple eloquence of the speech that followed. In fewer than 280 words, President Lincoln perfectly encapsulated what Everett expended more than 13,000 words trying to say. Or as Mr. Everett himself later put it in a letter to Abraham Lincoln:
I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.But how does this relate to fiction writing? (Aside from the immutable law that you should never use 13,508 words when 271 will do?) Well, maybe the key is in Everett's assessment of his own writing: the central idea is what matters. If you don't start with a good structure and build from that, no matter how many words you add, the writing will not resonate. In other words, if the emotion in your story does not flow from the characterization and the conflict, it won't matter how many adverbs or exclamation points you add, the story will never be memorable.
So if you find yourself writing about how incredibly happy or filled with ecstatic joy your characters are, take a step back and ask whether you're using elaborate language to try to generate emotion where none exists. And if so, take a tip from Mr. Everett and consider whether that elaborate language makes your writing richer, or whether it just makes it forgettable.