Is Your Prose Too Beautiful?

untitledI ran into this question while doing some research this past week, and it made me stop and think. Is my prose to beautiful? In my case, I would say no. I never grasped that concept. I have to admit I’ve tried.

The most famous rule in the bible of writing hints, The Elements of Style, is “Omit Needless Words.” This should be the hallmark of every writer.

Some authors believe good language should be showy. However, using unnecessary words in an effort to be literary or write more beautifully, is a common error first-time authors make.

George Simenon, a Belgian author, once pointed to a sentence and said: “That’s a beautiful sentence, cut it.”

He explained: “When you come across such a gorgeous sentence in a paragraph, it stands out and disrupts the even tone of your narrative. It’s as if you’ve paved a road and had a rose bush spurt up in the center. It’s beautiful, but it doesn’t belong there and it impedes the flow of the narrative.”

This overuse of description can also bog down a narrative and make it more difficult for a reader to quickly grasp the meaning.

Jerry Jenkins calls it written-ese. It’s a special language we use when we forget to Just Say It.

He provided the following example from a beginners work he was editing.

“The firedrop from the pommel of Tambre’s sword shot past the shimmering silver mist of her involuntary dispersal.”

Now that was a pretty sentence, but you can’t tell me it didn’t slow you down and make you think about what the author was actually trying to say. If you are like me, you had to read it several times. That’s written-ese.

I’m not saying you can’t use description. Description is good and helps your reader visualize characters, settings and much more. But it should be used sparingly. It should add to and enhance your sentence, not distract and overtake it.

Trying to impress others with your words is not the way to go. Be natural, be yourself, and it would probably help if you closed the thesaurus as well 🙂

-Jan R

 

 

 

 

Is Your Prose Too Beautiful?

Is Your Novel Believable?

Writing fiction can be fun. You get to create your own world with your own characters and you can take your story anywhere you want to go. Right?Unknown

Well that statement is true to a certain degree. You do have a lot of leeway, but keep in mind your story has to make sense. It has to be believable to your readers. That’s were research comes in. Your plot may be fictitious but your details had better be correct.

Anachronisms-details out of place and time-can break a reader’s suspension of disbelief if they notice the error. If for example a character in ancient Egypt consults his watch instead of a sundial, or maybe, Scarlett O’Hara, from “Gone With The Wind”, comes prancing down the stairs in stilettos and a mini skirt; your reader would be instantly  drawn out of the story. These are extreme examples but I think it helps to make the point.

There’s no excuse for anachronisms or lack of detail.  Once you know what you are writing about, immerse yourself in the subject. If you want to write about fireman, you do a ride along, shadow a precinct, or become a volunteer firefighter. If your novel takes place in a school, interview teachers or volunteer.

You can also use social media to learn about people and places, by watching videos or listening to interviews.  The internet puts everything at your fingertips. My novel is set primarily in the Carolinas, but my main character is deployed to Iraq for a short period of time. I’ve never been to Iraq and have no intention of ever going there.  For that short, but important segment of my book, I watched a documentary and actual footage from Camp Baharia. I also read pages set up on the internet by marines returning from the area describing what it was like for them. My oldest son is a sergeant in the Marines and has served in Afghanistan, so I was able to glean some information from him as well. Point is, I did some research and found what I needed to make that small but very important part of my novel believable.

It is always best to set your novels in cities that you know.  A good example of this would be Nicholas Sparks. His books are set in North Carolina. That’s where he lives. He understands the culture and can provide the details his readers expect.

One word of caution is to remember your research and detail are the seasoning for the story, don’t make them center stage. Resist the urge to show off how much research you have done. You don’t want to bog your readers down with unnecessary information.

-Jan R

Is Your Novel Believable?

Are Readers Skipping Crucial Parts Of Your Story?

images-11I love doing critiques. Sometimes I think I should have been an editor or professional proofreader.

The one issue that bothers me more than any other, when I do critiques, is descriptive overloads, dumps, what ever you want to call them. If you are reading this, you know exactly what I’m talking about. I realize some description and imagery are necessary to help the reader visualize the story, but some people provide page after page of it.

I’m a skipper/skimmer. I own up to it and have stated it as fact in many of my blogs. I don’t want to be and don’t like the idea of skimming through pages of writing to get to the good stuff. As a matter of fact, if I pick up a book or go to someone’s writing posted for critique and all I see is paragraph after para graph of descriptive, I’m not touching it.

Jerry Jenkins says it’s a sin to ask a paragraph of description to stand on its own. Your readers eyes glaze over and then they are gone. He’s written nearly 190 books, so I listen when he speaks.

So, what’s the solution? It’s your job to set the scene, but you want to make sure your readers aren’t skimming the descriptives, or worse, skipping them altogether.

You have to make the description part of the action:

Randall wanted only David to know his scheme, so he pulled him away from the others and onto the deck where he had to raise his voice over the pounding waves. He hunched his shoulders against the whipping wind and wished he’d thought to grab a jacket, knowing they wouldn’t be able to stand it out there for long.

In this example we know the setting because it was incorporated into the action. The author did not take a paragraph to discuss the severity of the storm that was causing massive waves and packing winds at 20 miles an hour.  While Randall is whispering his nefarious plan, your reader is skipping nothing.

I wish I could say I’ve mastered this skill, but I have not. It is a technique I continue to work on. A place I aspire to be one day.

-Jan R

 

 

Are Readers Skipping Crucial Parts Of Your Story?