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Word Up

February 5, 2010 Comments off

After yesterday’s excitement over the action scene, I’m back to Earth. I re-read the section, and asked my wife to have a peek too. The scene is good, and it will stay in, but it needs work. The action moves too fast, and the reader can’t picture the scenario as it unfolds. I need to revise heavily, and in so doing, I’ll need to add more literal description.

That’s the real problem. I need to get better at finding the balance between exposition that the reader can understand easily and creative prose that is open to some interpretation. I want my audience to be able to visualize my scenes, but I don’t want to spoon feed them. It’s a tough balance, because while I want the narrative to flow at a quick pace, moving it along too fast limits the vividness of the setting.

What I find is that this manifests itself by taxing my vocabulary. The voice and syntax I’ve employed for this novel require an almost poetic diction that relies on single words or short phrases to set whole scenes and paint the characters in three dimensions. Add to that the fact that this is intended to be a young adult novel – a novel targeted at an audience with a high-school vocabulary – and I find myself often fighting to find the right word.

That fight can become a frustration because I want to move forward. I feel a very real desire to get as much of this novel on paper as fast as I can. I don’t want to lose the momentum; finishing the manuscript in any form will be a big step toward having a publishable novel. Besides, I trust my ability to revise with purpose and intelligence once the first draft is done. Too often, though, my pace stalls because I know that there’s a better word and it won’t come. The thesaurus can be a help, but it often squelches my voice and leads to clichés.

One problem might be that I’ve been reading a rather lousy book lately (you might have heard of it – it features a certain clan of sparkly vampires and their melodramatic misadventures with a teenage buffoon). The language in that lovely little book reads like an eighth-grade spelling test. (Which is not to say I don’t respect Stephanie Meyers – I do. She’s made a killing with those books, and clearly filled a substantial niche in the YA market.) I finished “Twilight” last night, though, and have moved on to a much more intelligent collection of short stories (“Oblivion” by David Foster Wallace). Reading the work of a linguistic genius – a work that forces me to spend as much time with the Oxford English Dictionary as I do with the text itself – will, I hope, be one way to enliven my vocabulary a bit.

After yesterday’s excitement over the action scene, I’m back to Earth. I re-read the section, and asked my wife to have a peek too. The scene is good, and it will stay in, but it needs work. The action moves to fast, and the reader can’t picture the scenario as it unfolds. I need to revise heavily, and in so doing, I’ll need to add more literal description.

That’s the real problem. I need to get better at finding the balance between exposition that the reader can understand easily and creative prose that is open to some interpretation. I want my audience to be able to visualize my scenes, but I don’t want to spoon feed them. It’s a tough balance, because while I want the narrative to flow at a quick pace, moving it along too fast limits the vividness of the setting.

What I find is that this manifests itself by taxing my vocabulary. The voice and syntax I’ve employed for this novel requires an almost poetic diction that relies on single words or short phrases to set whole scenes and paint the characters in three dimensions. Add to that the fact that this is intended to be a young adult novel – a novel targeted at an audience with a high-school vocabulary – and I find myself often fighting to find the right word.

That fight can become a frustration because I want to move forward. I feel a very real desire to get as much of this novel on paper as fast as I can. I don’t want to lose the momentum, and I trust my ability to revise with purpose and intelligence once the first draft is done. Too often, though, my pace stalls because I know that there’s a better word and it won’t come. The thesaurus can be a help, but it often squelches my voice and leads to clichés.

One problem might be that I’ve been reading a rather lousy book lately (you might have heard of it – it features a certain clan of sparkly vampires and their melodramatic misadventures with a teenage buffoon). The language in that lovely little book reads like an eighth-grade spelling test. I finished that novel last night, though, and have moved on to a much more intelligent collection of short stories (“Oblivion” by David Foster Wallace). Reading the work of a linguistic genius – a work that forces me to spend as much time with the Oxford English Dictionary as I do with the text itself – will, I hope, be one way to enliven my vocabulary a bit.

One Hell of a Truck

February 2, 2010 Comments off

It’s a concern for me that my writing seems plausible, natural, organic. I enjoy reading most when it transports me and allows me to be pulled into the story. When a detail is overly contrived or a turn of phrase does not ring true, the magic ends, I’m an editor again, and the story loses any sense of flow.

Something that’s been central to my life in the week since I’ve started writing in earnest is that I try to be observant. I try to note the details that can define a person: the food in someone’s shopping cart at the grocery store, the body language as a couple waits in line at the movies, the car someone drives. This awareness of the people around me has helped my writing. I’ve been able to adeptly define my characters by showing, not telling.

That’s not to say that I have complete confidence in my use of those significant defining details. I strive to avoid being trite and I make it a point of emphasis to avoid clichés, but second and third readings still raise more red flags than I’d like. That chips away at my confidence.

My confidence got a bit of a boost today, because of my new observational practices. A white Chevy Silverado raced past me as I was driving my son to his piano lesson. The truck swerved in front of me, caking my windshield in a layer of muddy, salty February road sludge. I cursed under my breath as I flicked on the wipers. A glance at the offending truck once the windshield was clear turned my anger into amusement, though. The truck had a custom vanity license plate that read simply, “SATAN.”

I couldn’t help but smile. Even the worst of writers would shy away from a blatant character sketch such as a “SATAN” license plate. The world truly is stranger than fiction. A good faith effort on my part will produce a plausible and readable story. I need to have faith that there are readers out there for me.