Thursday, 2 August 2012

Good writing - how much does it matter?

Obviously, to many people, not much. To them perhaps the story is all (or nearly all), and that's what matters. And that's fair enough. After all, writers are trying to give readers what they want, not competing in a competition for the best syntax or grammar. But...

I mind desperately. For me, the writing must never get in the way of the the story. It must flow smoothly, almost unobtrusively, so that events and images are built up seamlessly in the reader's imagination, with no unnecessary intereference.

If I come across bad, or obtrusive writing, it's as though the fabric of the narrative has been snagged on an obstacle; my involvement in the story is held up, while I wonder why the author used that odd phrase, or that strange piece of description.

Some examples from a novel I've just read:

A frown invaded his features. Why not simply, "he frowned"?
He heard the breath of her grin leave her mouth (????)
The girl...leered at him, her head doddering on its axis like a nodding dog (WHAT?)
Someone turning off a computer message silenced it with an emphatic digit (turned it off?)

In the same novel, characters don't just "say" things; they snarl, spit, growl, sneer and scowl their words. Why? Shouldn't what they say speak - literally - for itself?

Maeve Binchy, who sadly died this week, and who told wonderful stories in simple prose, believed this kind of thing was quite unncessary. So do I.

What do you think?

23 comments:

  1. The amazing thing is that these examples got published. Very sad about Maeve Binchy - I shall take another look at her books now.

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    1. I recommend The Firefly Summer, Maggie. Years since I read it, but I loved it.

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  2. While I can relate to those authors who do not want to constantly use "he said", "she said", "he said", "she said",... (you get the idea), the girl with the head doddering on its axis is simply ridiculous!!
    And I mind bad writing (and bad editing) very much. Even a thin story can make me like the book if the writing is done well (which rarely seems to happen this way, but more often the other way round).

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    1. Funnily enough, I believe it's a fact that " said" is fine, because the reader doesn't really notice it. Once you start snarling and yelling, s/he does!

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  3. It sounds as if the writer didn't have a proper editor. I think that good writing matters too.

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    1. Jenny, that would never have got past my editors!

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  4. Well said Frances - keep it simple, keep it flowing :-)

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    1. Simple and flowing sums it up perfectly, Diane.

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  5. I can hear the stentorian reverberations of your thoughts as far away as Lewis. Pleonasm and unnecessary verbiage are anathema. Good simple prose is what I like.

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    1. Shan't!. I've got to do something with all those words I've learned over the last seven decades!

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    2. Well, how very rude. And there am I, still a helpless convalescent... You are no gentleman, sir.

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    3. That's a giggle, Frances. The idea of you being helpless! You have broken your back (twice), arm, elbow, toes (twice) and collar bone and you are still riding and intending to ride again. You are one of the least helpless people with whom I am acquainted.

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  6. I agree, Frances. When the grammar is poor, I feel the writer and editor didn't care much about me. It's like wearing new dress to a party and sensing the hem begin to unravel the moment you arrive. A real let-down and hard to ignore.

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  7. Simple is good. Much better than a writer trying to be clever.

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    1. I think that's the problem, Patsy. So many writer seem to be trying to say things differently - being 'clever' - when the old, simple ways are best!

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  8. I totally agree with you. I can't read a book if the speech doesn't ring true or sounds stilted. ( Oh dear, I am now worried that this comment is not grammatically correct... Oh well....publish and be damned they say! )

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  9. I totally agree with you. I can't read a book if the speech doesn't ring true or sounds stilted. ( Oh dear, I am now worried that this comment is not grammatically correct... Oh well....publish and be damned they say! )

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    1. And publish and be damned twice, if necessary! Thanks, Frances.

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  10. There are few things that irritate me more than writing that gets in the way of what could be a good story. I don't understand why some writers feel the need to overcomplcate the words.

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