Wednesday, November 5, 2014


My lunchtime reading recently has been an author I’m revisiting, who gained huge popularity in the 80s and 90s, but whose career began in the 70s and continues today.  This is someone who could frustrate with “get ready for the sequel” novels, but who also has an undeniable gift with language.

The problem with a certain level of publishing success is that, so often, it leads to a certain level of creative control that ends up meaning an author can eschew editing.  Colleen McCullough is an example of this, and her works for some years sank deeper and deeper into the “if a fact or anecdote can be told once, it can be told SEVENTY times” and the corollary, “if it can be told in twenty words, it can also be told in seven pages.”

The books I’m revisiting of late suffer a lack of editorial presence, too, and have me looking at my linguistic habits pretty coldly.  I have a thing for adverbs, and “just” and “actually” are, for reasons I can’t explain, constantly present in my writing.  And, of course, the overlocutive, unnecessarily complex sentence issues.  Reading this author’s work, though, has me finding previously-unnoticed habits in my writing as well.  “Almost”, for some reason pulls a lot of punches throughout my own work.  Given the first-person voice in The Ax and the Vase, this requires some review – Clovis is not the most likely punch-puller in the world.

It’s “and” and serial commas that seem to be a problem for this author.  She puts no comma where a new clause begins, and creates paragraph-long sentences with both lists and multiple clauses, with “and” between every element and commas following no apparent logic.  It feels like none of this writing was ever read out loud, and it also muddies the voice.

This author writes from the perspectives of very large casts of characters in many novels, and even from vantage points in time spanning literally hundreds of years.  And every character sounds the same.  And every second sentence begins with “and”, too.

Now, obviously – I’m not one of those purists who shudders and pearl-clutches at the very idea of beginning a sentence with the word “and” or “but”.  However (hah!), I don’t want to see it fifteen times in a single page.  AND this author does that.  It’s so painfully obtrusive (and punch-pulling, at that – it sucks drama out of moments and statements time and again) it’s impossible to ignore.

SO (hah), it becomes impossible to lose yourself in the novel – or in a single character’s story – because not only does every character in every individual novel sound alike, but every character in ALL this author’s MANY novels sound exactly the same.

This is why writers must read so much.

The good news is, this has me looking pretty mercilessly at my own writing.  I’m aware that parenthesis, hyphens, difficult constructions, and “pretty” are recurrent with me.  The words and patterns that seem to hover throughout my work, I try to at least SEE – even when I don’t necessarily choose to “correct” them.

To a degree, it is my own voice that makes me a writer.  The degree MUST be limited and regulated, I know that.  But it’s also true that some part of the charm of reading some particular author is *their* way of expressing things – even through the filter of POV and characters’ voices and so on.  It feels like it’s okay to infuse ourselves into the way a story gets told.

But (hah) it’s important, too, that the author’s presence should be a support, not part of the story in an obtrusive way.  In a way, this is like research – you have to do enough to know your period, but you can only put into the work what really needs to be there.  You have to know your story and be involved (even “passionate”!) about it, but most of the time – the author doesn’t need to “be there” …

Ever read a novel where the author felt like an uninvited guest at the party?  Or do you know works where the author’s palpable presence helped rather than hindered … ??


Angel Pariah said...

Twilight stands out in my mind as an obtrusive example of the "uninvited guest" genre, and I didn't even finish the first chapter. It was just that painful to read.

DLM said...

I'm so middle aged it's never even occurred to me to read Twilight even just to hate it properly. I can well imagine, though, it has its weaknesses. :)

Thank you for coming by and commenting!