Are we there yet?

Some famous writer said “Don’t write stuff people skip.” Well, Amen to that.

Now my wife reads Bernard Cornwell but skims the battle scenes. (I know…) One friend has this genuine love for intricate character back stories, another enjoys the ancient history or fantasy realms in Tolkien-esque detail. A third devours the minutia of court drama and politics, which I find drier than the Sahara in drought. “Game of Scones” anyone?

Allowing for the vagaries of personal taste, what kills me is inflated prose, be florid or bland, sugar or sawdust. And in my experience, indie authors are among the worst offenders. I do mean ‘kills me’ because I’m bored to death trying to read books I want to like. Like the little boy digging through a pile of poop in the stable, I’m sure there’s a story in there somewhere. I just wish you’d get on with it.

Many writers profess great exactness in punctuation who never yet made a point. ~ George Dennison Prentice

My plea? Focus – Please. Like a camera, center on what I need to see. If the landscape, then get your thumb off the lens. If your family, then get closer and leave out the sweeping panoramic. If both in context, then frame a balanced shot. Details are fine, but only if they move the story along, generate conflict or ratchet the tension.

Whether you need to read it out loud to yourself, pass it to a non-family member for critical feedback, or hire an editor who isn’t afraid to bruise your ego and wield a scalpel, please trim the fat and kick your tale into gear.

I’ll end with a batch of quotes:

The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do. ~ Thomas Jefferson.

Good things, when short, are twice as good. ~ Baltasar Gracian

The first draft of anything is shit. ~ Ernest Hemingway

You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what’s burning inside you. And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke. ~ Arthur Plotnik

6 Replies to “Are we there yet?”

  1. That famous writer was Elmore Leonard. Since I’ve skipped most of his books, perhaps he should stop writing.

    In all seriousness, though, that first example you give is the kernel of the nut of that bromide. What one person skips, many others find to be the story’s great strength. I’m quite defensive on this point because I’m in the “love it! Don’t change a word!” camp on several great series novels (Harry Potter, A Song Of Ice And Fire, Chalion, Kingkiller Chronicles, Long Price Quartet) all of which are well-papered with reviews demanding that the authors hire better editors. The detail I drink in through repeated readings is the detail a lot of people skip. I don’t want to give up my treats just so some other fellow can have himself a breezy read.

    That said, I’ll agree that many indie writers are far too in love with their own greatness and, lacking editorial oversight, inflict that greatness upon us all. The best advice I can give is to Know Your Audience. If you are writing for people who want a quick thriller to read on the train, then read a bunch of books like the one you’re writing and see how they do it. Don’t read a bunch of fantasy books and apply those atmospheric principles to your Clive Cussleresque world.

    People skip when they’re bored. Don’t bore them.

  2. I wasn’t aware of the Kingkiller criticisms. Your recommendation pushed Rothfuss to the top of my To Read list, and I was thoroughly entranced. His prose is very different from say Gibson or McCarthy, but I thought every word was in the right place. It was entirely consistent to the high fantasy style and audience, IMO.

    1. I know! I can’t get over it. It’s so bizarre. But the reviews were very much bad from some on his second book that at one point he said he “felt like swallowing a gun.” I did my best to point out that all those 1-star reviews were but 2% of the reviews overall. If someone that talented feels like suicide because someone doesn’t like his work…I just. I don’t know. It’s tragic.

  3. Another writer quote I stumbled across recently said “Asking a writer what he feels about reviewers is like asking a lamp post what it feels about dogs.”

    I’d be delirious with joy if I managed to write anything as good and as poignant as the Kingkiller novels. I’m trying not to be impatient for the third.

  4. I don’t ever skip scenes. I can’t imagine doing that because I’m an information junkie. What if I miss something important? I’ll read to-the-point prose where everything is told sparingly and exactly so, but it bores me after a while. I like writing and stories to be a little messy, which means that even florid is fine with me. I don’t think this is a male/female difference, either, because my husband likes the same sort of literature I do (at least for the most part). What are you calling indie–Indie presses, self-pub, or literary? I read all of the above, but don’t like what some people call literary. I don’t like the stuff that thinks very highly of itself for pushing the lines on controversial subject matter. For a while there, I began to wonder if all men sexually assault their children or screw sheep or sleep with their sisters, and I wasn’t reading erotica, but literary fiction. Gag. In any case, even though I read everything, I have me preferences, and I’m happy there are still books available for all tastes.

  5. I think my frustration has more to do with tepid pacing, unnecessary words and misplaced information. I’m looking for dynamic efficiency, I guess, regardless of the style of prose.

    I used indie (self-pubbed) as an example only because I’ve been reading more of it than usual lately. I’ve spied culprits in trad-pub fiction and non-fiction as well. Too many to justify their royalties, IMO.

    And yes, I will skip certain topics, regardless of the quality of the writing.

    Thanks for weighing in.

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