Saturday, February 1, 2014

Tell it to me straight

Writing is a form of communication. What we put on paper, or on screen, has the power to transport a reader to a different time and place. We can slide them into another person's head, stimulate their emotions, even help them identify with someone completely different from themselves. If we can elevate a reader's heart rate, make them tense, aroused, sad, or angry, we've accomplished what we set out to do--reach them.

It has always fascinated me that words on a page are able to flash clear and vibrant images in my head. When I read and write, I'm within and without the action as it plays like a movie in my mind. I hear the voices, smell the flowers or bubble bath. I can taste the buttery, yeasty champagne and imagine all those tiny bubbles on my tongue. I grow emotionally involved with, and attached to, the characters. There's a strong connection there, like E.T. and Elliot. What they experience, I experience.

Unfortunately not all writers understand the power at their fingertips. They forget they are telling a story to another person. Their voice gets lost, and with it, their connection to their audience. They fill their pages with awkward sentences, flowery phrasing, and purple prose. Some writers, I swear, have a thesaurus open next to them and refuse to use a clear and simple word for what they want to convey when two obscure words will do the trick. I rarely finish a book like this. In fact, unless I've been asked to read and review it, I might stop after the first chapter. Why bother? The language and sentence structure has already removed me from both the story and the characters.

I grumble and gripe when I see books like this. I'd like to ask these writers to read their work aloud. Is this how they really talk? Does anyone? Or is it awkward? If a writer is more interested in showing off than expressing something, there's a problem and the unnatural dialogue is only an indication of a deeper issue.

Strange character names can be equally off-putting for a reader. I'm not a fan of unusual spellings for common names, my beef, but that's nothing compared to running across a name so odd you can't even be sure how it's pronounced. When I type, I hear and read the words in my head so just hitting a bizarre combination of keys over and over again as I write would drive me insane. I can't do it. Can't imagine doing. I'm certainly not going to be able to read a book when I'm constantly tripping over the character's name in every paragraph.

I'm not saying writers shouldn't allow their inner poet to run free when they write. But they should do it judiciously. Choose their moments carefully and blow their readers' minds with something graceful and exquisite. It's those subtle touches that stand out and make the reader take note. Don't bury the beauty with excess. To use a sports analogy, set up your plays carefully. Bring your ball down the field. There's no need to do a happy dance and spike the ball with every yard you gain. Save it, savor it, once you've scored.

Image courtesy of adamr/

1 comment:

  1. Good fiction writing should, in my opinion, be subtle. You should place the words into the reader's head without disturbing their thoughts. Making it like they were thinking them. That's how you engage a reader and how you make what you write real for them.