Sharp Dressed Man

Saturday, June 5, 2010

It's always been my opinion, when reading a great book, that there comes a time when the reader stops seeing the words.  He or she stops noting the interesting use of adjectives, or the choice of dialogue tags and starts seeing in their mind's eye the images the author has painted.  He or she watches the hero climb the stairs into a forbidding darkness, sees the heroine huddle nearby, feels nervousness as the villain watches them both on a fuzzy close circuit TV screen.

This effect is not an easy one to pull off.  It means that the fiction is working on every level--structurally, philosophically, grammatically, narratively--and there are no distractions which draw the reader away from what John Gardner calls the fictional dream.  Any distraction, like a wedding band drummer who thinks he's playing in a sixty-thousand seat stadium, will draw the reader's attention, and cause them not to "see" the vision the author is trying to paint.

Almost anything can be a distraction.  For example, a writer I knew liked James Joyce a lot, so all of his dialogue used Joyce's two-dash convention, instead of quotes, thusly:

--Heavens, no! James spouted.
--You heard what I said.  Renee said.

While stylistically, use of this convention may be avant garde and cool, it still represents one of those bumps which causes the reader to pause and have to think.  Other distractions include over-describing, overuse of adjectives or adverbs or problems with narrative voice.

This is why readers and reviewers are so important, and also I think why putting a piece aside for some period of time can be extremely critical to a writer's vision of his own work.  Waiting for awhile helps you see the fictional dream in a way you can't when you're too close to it, but more importantly, it helps you identify those choices in your writing that distract from the seamlessness of the whole.

In other words, if your fiction is a rock band, make sure you don't have one of these guys playing drums:

Have a groovy weekend and thanks for stopping by!

6 bolts from the blue:

Christi Goddard said...

OMG. That drummer is hilarious. Thanks for the laugh, John.

Claire Dawn said...

Nothings wrong with the drummer. Octopi having seisures always look that way! lol!

Brilliant analogy though! Dustin is the guy playing lead guitar? If so, the clip is even more relevant, b/c half the time, your mind is on the drummer.

When I first started out I faced this problem. All during school, they drill it into you to use big words in your essays, and make your language as eloquent as possible. But novel writing is like a little black dress. Simple but elegant.

Courtney Barr - The Southern Princess said...

OMG! Um someone help him! Those drums are being attacked by a swarm of killer bees! THEY WANT THEIR JACKET & PANTS BACK!!! Help Him Help Him!!! ;o)

Visit My Kingdom Anytime

Simon C. Larter said...

Ha! Awesome analogy, good sir. And, uh... where the hell does one find vids like that? Did you have to sift through several hundred wedding band videos, just hoping for a drummer that went ape...?

Oh, and the writing advice was spot on too. Nicely done!

Anne R. Allen said...

Excellent point: Don't let the writing get in the way of the story. (And don't let the drummer get in the way of the band.)

Jon Paul said...

Christi--Sure thing!

Claire--It's true, isn't it? The U.S. public school system teaches us a lot of bad habits, many of which I am still trying to break.

Courtney--Yeah, I thought their goofy getups was an even nicer touch.

Simon--Hostage exchange. Works every time. ;)


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