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Over-ripeness is all

William Blake advised, "You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough."

Excellent advice for writers: Try anything and everything that rises from your imagination and inventiveness. Then take a cold look at it — or get a competent editor to take a cold look at it — and decide whether it actually works.

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Posting yesterday on Facebook, Bruce DeSilva, veteran writing coach at the Associated Press, held up for examination some passages from Robin Finn's profile of Harlan Coben in The New York Times.

From the profile: Home base is a stunning Victorian mansion, circa 1865, where a replica Maltese Falcon (Raymond Chandler is Mr. Coben's hero) guards the library's built-in bookcases and that validator of mystery writers, a 1997 Edgar Award -- the bust's resemblance to Edgar Allen Poe is iffy -- glowers disconsolately on the mantel in the parlor.

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Mr. DeSilva's comment: That's a 52-word sentence punctuated by a set of parentheses, two dashes, and three commas. And you have to read it at least twice to figure out what the hell it means. By the way, if you are going to imply that Raymond Chandler wrote "The Maltese Falcon," you might want to look it up first. He didn't.

There's more. Much more.

This sort of thing, free-associative piling up of details that are sort of related in long, slack sentences, is tempting to try — viz., Tom Wolfe, Hunter Thompson, David Foster Wallace — and surrender to the temptation commonly leads to silliness of a very high concentration. One would like to think that somewhere along the line an editor at The Times or a copy editor said, "No. This won't do," before being overridden by someone of greater authority and lesser judgment.

You Don't Say will be devoting some attention this week to writing of ill-advised excess. Should you harbor some favorite examples, do send them along.

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