Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Thing About Reading

… specifically, the thing about reading multiple works by one author – is that, unless they’re exceptionally good, you learn their go-to strategies. If you’re smart and/or fortunate, you begin to feel your own. It’s not always repetition of words per se, but this is certainly a matter of the linguistic patterns on which we depend.

I have some suspicion that my tendency toward overwrought clauses and loquatiousness comes from some fear of simplistic repetitiveness (and very definitely from a family full of Impressive Speakers – for good or ill), but I also have decreasing illusions about the patterns I do have. Some readers go bananas dealing with my parentheticals or dash interruptions … I pretend to try to keep ellipses to a minimum, but know all too well I use them more than most writers ever would.

An acquaintance online once identified my “voice” unerringly by dint of recognizing my tendency to overuse the word “just.” Ever since, I’ve been overly aware of its presence whenever I type it; yet it’s hardly alone in calling me out. I have an extreme problem with “actually” which, even aware of the problem, I have not reformed. Adverbs generally, one of those tools of our language so many publishing professionals would love to see banned and which therefore I defend and adore like the contrarian I am, are a pretty easy identifier. Too many writers use them in pointless ways; and none of us needs the padding. Yet they are a limber and lively part of our tongue, and it would be a great pity to kill them off wholesale thanks to those who use them poorly.


There’s one writer whose mass of termonological tics render every character’s voice identical, no matter their setting, mood, education, or demographics. The tics transcend character voice and insert an all too literal authorial voice which, because it spans dialogue, exposition, action, and all elemenets of novel upon novel upon novel upon novel, is distracting; unwelcome. It’s cumbersome and even maddening. Yet, because I’m a stubborn ass, I won’t put down a given novel – but will edit it in pen.

This is justified both by the fact that some works are re-run reads for me, and I want to be able to read one, ever, without having to mentally correct it all over again, tiny mental rants bursting forth over and over on every page spread. Oh, and by my smug-assed presumption that (hopefully …) it makes ME a better writer.

Learning from someone else’s mistakes.

I’m not as prescriptivist as I once was, and indeed have come to love the quivering weirdness of the written word, as it synthesizes the spoken, or thought, or comveys a story in simple ways, or dresses up in beautiful words and parades around making a magnificent spectacle of itself. If it does this by breaking rules, or breaking what people THINK are rules, all the better.


If it does this encumbered: writing sucks. If it’s shackled to an author’s own preconceptions or prejudices, ignorance (writing creatively, without research, is wonderfully valid, but writing in wilful blindness is not; see also, the geological unlikelihood of William Golding’s island for Lord of the Flies, on which we are nonetheless stranded and harrowed and broken down … versus any tale populated by lazily caricatured Mary Sues, none of which I will name for charity’s and safety’s sake) … it’s going to enchain an audience, rather than enfold and transport them.

And so it is, having just finished a cycle of reruns I will not repeat for years yet, I choose to finally spew a bit about the patterns____ repetitions thrust through my suffering wee and paltry little brain of late:

  • Beginning. Every. Other. Sentence. With the word AND. It’s not a rule I give a crud about, but please quit flogging me with *unneccesary* and’s, and interminable riffs of this.
  • Peppering single sentences with and, and, and; and and—and and. Paragraph-long sentences formed with these.
  • “And then,”
  • “Of course”
  • “Suddenly” and "Immediately"
    (If there is any better way to slow the pace than constant repetition of these two descriptors: I don't want to learn it.)
  • “Utterly”
  • “Now”
  • “That”
  • “Which”
  • “In sum”
  • "Slowly”
    (Even I, adverbial defender that I am, can hardly identify an instance in the entire literary world where this is honestly a necessary descriptor; and, even if it’s important to specify, there are so many more interesting words than this one.)
  • Stating the rules of the world even as deep as the END of a novel, by which point we really know these rules, authorial voice, we really really do and would beg you to stop explaining.
  • Doing this even in the briefest of unnecessary clauses. You’re treating your audience like idiots. Seriously, stop it.
  • Describing characters’ extreme attractiveness at every possible moment of a scene. Extra bonus points OFF if you insist upon detailing every point of an ensemble in doing this. Every time.
  • All the characters are attractive. Even the extras. EVERYONE is attractive, and beauty equals goodness – even if the goodness is merely angst-ridden, terminally melodramatic evil. Hooray for pretty!
  • Describing by fancy maker, pattern of drapery/upholstery fabric, age and theme of bric-a-brac, country-of-origin of rugs, ostentatiously tasteful paint color, and at all times most-expensive-possible materials comprising every possible corner of a room in which one single scene should take place in five minutes, but which I have to read about for six pages, because – these characters are conspicuously well off, get it? THIS IS WORLD-BUILDING, GET IT? (This author, not incidentally, happens to be obscenely wealthy, and I could give a hang less how they choose to (clearly) decorate their own personal home. Get on with it. This is not story.)
  • Describing by artist or composer, and with exhaustive critical opinion, every overwrought piece of music with which the author has mentally scored, scene by scene, every single instant of a novel. I don’t give an aching damn what you were listening to while you wrote this, and once you’ve done this eighteen times in a single novel, I know you are just showing off how much you think you know about music, and it’s just as boring as when that one guy does it in a bar so he can prove how he is too good to hang out in bars and is really a wildly overeducated, intelligent, super sensitive snob I knew I didn’t liike in the first place and now find completely insufferable in the second place.
  • Constant. Racist. Descriptions. CONSTANT. If anyone appears anywhere in any of these works, who is not whiter than a sheet of modern copy paper, they are: dumb, superstitious, and *strictly* present as accessories to the white people’s stories.
  • No, seriously.
  • The actual, explicit worship of the very words “white” or “pale” are impossible to ignore. And this is not a 19th century novelist whose attitudes can be glossed over. I mean, this writer makes The Ax and the Vase look progressive, and Ax doesn’t even contain diversity.

Oh my, that felt good – if unseemly.

I may even be able to read one of these books ever again.

Just not within the next decade … or two. Actually. ()—and and and and. BOOP!

(Please feel free to initiate drinking games making fun of MY myriad tics and pretentions. All I ask is you comment and tell me about them, so we can all have fun. Cheers!)


Blogger said...

Did you know you can create short links with Shortest and receive money from every visitor to your short urls.

DLM said...

So, Blogger has been spamming me all night long with this same UTTERLY IRRELEVANT, inappropriate, useless "comment". I am unable to block it, of course.

This is irritating enough that, if it continues, I may discontinue this blog and go somewhere else.

DESIST, Blogger.