Monday, 1 August 2016

WORDS, JUST WORDS? by Penny Dolan

I rarely turn away from a book without reading a chapter or more, but last week I did just that. 

I closed a novel at around the third page and  decided that I wouldn't be reading on, or finishing the fat volume, even though the writer is famous and the apparently popular book was one of an adult, not children’s series.

I could pretend that I had lots of other things to do and books to read, and that was the reason. However, the real reason I turned away was this phrase:
“Envisioning imminent incineration . . .”

Juts read those words right now and think how long they take to speak in your mind or on the tongue. In my opinion, the pace isn’t fast enough, the syllables are too long and the vocabulary too grandly “literary”.
Would someone really think those exact words?
 “Jings, Archie! I’m out of here.
I am envisioning imminent incineration.”

I should put the words in their full context: the phrase describes a man landing a badly damaged plane on a WWII airfield.
He “popped the Spitfire’s hood, and hopped out of the plane, envisioning imminent incineration.”

However, I still can’t believe that, in the heat of such a moment, a character would think those exact words when they might be about to die. As a result, my belief in the story, the character and the writing dissolved and disappeared.

I’m sorry if this sounds harsh and I know the writing is in a past tense. I even read on for a while but the thing read so floridly and the book was very thick. I was glad to give the item back to the library today - as were the others in my book group, without comparing notes.

Yet I must admit that one of the reasons I felt so cross was because, right now, I am going through my own work-in-progress. I am busy criticising and editing my own over-writing. I keep coming across weak words like “seem” and “began” and there’s a lot of “seeing” and “hearing” in there too, when I should be offering the reader a much stronger , more direct experience.  

 Jings, Archie! I want my writing to be crisp and neat and effective – as well as atmospheric and descriptive – and to tell a good tale with an excellent and believable (yet surprising) plot and more, much more.   

Oh, I want so much for this particular story, but my fear is that it and I are, possibly,
 “envisioning imminent incineration!”


Ah, such is the writing life!
Penny Dolan


Susan Price said...

Trust yourself, Penny! You're a wonderful writer. Trust your own responses and editing and you will produce a wonderful book.

Joan Lennon said...

I agree with Susan. And the fact that, reading like a writer, you are able to ask those kinds of questions, means you are already well-equipped to spot the odd aberration. (Odd aberration, see what I did there ...)
P.S. Love that writing outfit!

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Written in your usual witty style Penny! Brilliant and hopefully there will be no incineration just the flare of creative flame in your brain!

Richard said...

I feel your pain, Penny. Much as once one learns to drive they are never as comfortable in the driving seat. In one of the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books, Arthur Dent learns bird language and ever after, instead of beautiful bird song, the trees are full of inane gossip.

I am in a small boat, far behind you, but here's my example, also taken from a very popular author. It's a US police procedural.

Plumbing above and below me groaned, and one by one other rooms went bright as sharp tattoos from ranges I could not see riddled the dawn.
-- I don't expect a test in parsing from the first paragraph of a book.

"..." he said of my forensic scientist colleague from Knoxville.
-- that would be ugly even if it wasn't inserted a third of a page after the person in question had first been mentioned. It's all explained again when we meet him in the next chapter, when we find that...

He was a small man with prepossessed eyes
-- who had them before?

Penny Dolan said...

Love those examples, Richard, and enjoyed the inane gossip story! And thanks for the kindly & encouraging words, Diane, Joan and Sue.