Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Writers and Words

One of the books I'm currently reading is actually a trilogy that came out over a decade ago. I read the series when it originally came out, but I don't have the paper copies any more. When I saw the ebook version of trilogy advertised at a bargain price on Bookbub, I decided to grab it. Reading a trilogy isn't going to help me make up my book count for my Goodreads challenge, especially when it's a very long trilogy, but I'm already close to halfway done. My secret? I'm skipping or skimming the description.

In the prefaces to the first and second books, the author talks about her love of words, which started in childhood. She also loves worldbuilding, which results in pages and pages of description of even unimportant people and locations. Unfortunately, I'm the kind of reader who is more interested in the story than the setting. (I have to admit I forgot about this aspect of the series, or maybe it didn't bother me back then.) I wonder how well a new author with this amount of description would be able to sell her work to a traditional publisher today--or how well her work would fare if she self-published.

It's important for writers to develop their vocabularies so they know the proper definitions and connotations of words. There are words that are appropriate for a Victorian setting but not a futuristic one, and vice versa. As a creative writer, I acknowledge that other writers are free to experiment with language--and they should. I don't believe that writers should abstain from using adverbs and adjectives. But with my background in technical writing, I also want to keep my works easy-to-follow. I don't want to write the parts that readers are going to skip. Wordcraft is only one aspect of storytelling; story structure and character development are also important. Writers and readers may prefer different proportions of description and action. Perhaps book blurbs should do a better job of conveying style along with story. (Some do, but not all of them.)

In my opinion, Patricia McKillip is the champion of writing poetic prose that doesn't detract from the story. What other authors do you admire for their writing style? Do you think they'll still be read a hundred years from now, or will changes in our language make our current works inaccessible for future generations? Please comment below.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

When it comes to Tolkien style description, I'm a big skimmer. I think there is becoming less, but the bigger publishers still seem to like rich description. I like just enough to spark my own imagination.

Pat Dilloway said...

Long swathes of description can definitely make me tune out.

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