Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Lost in Words

Have you ever been lost in someone else's words?  I've decided to blog about this topic, because of a book review I recently read.  Sometimes I’m horrified by the reviews out there.  Hasn't anyone every heard the golden rule: If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all?  I have to wonder...  (Read Nathan Bransford's Don't Be a Jerk for further clarification.)  Still, the reviewer had a point.  The reviewer’s chief complaint was how some writers choose to write in an overwritten/grandiose fashion versus artfully crafting a story. 
This is a topic that often plagues me.  So much that I did some digging and found this one blog post from The Literary Lab from a couple of years ago about the "Overwritten Prose" (an excellent post too for newbie & seasoned writers.)  
As a writer, sometimes I worry about perfecting my sentences/phrases, musing relentlessly over word choice or you name it.  I could go on and on, but you get the idea.  Yet, fundamentally, what always comes back to me is….stop obsessing or trying to be so darn clever or eloquent.  Write what comes naturally and tell a compelling story.  Sounds simple, right?  Not on your life.  Call me crazy, but I think the best authors have balance; instinctively knowing when to embellish and when to focus on the plot.   

As a reader nothing irritates me more than being lost in another author’s words.  It doesn't happen often, but when it does, I get frustrated.  And honestly, I can understand that one reviewer's main gripe which brings me to my question…


As a writer, do you get lost in your style of writing?  Be honest.  Newbie or not, we've all been there.  And as a reader, have you ever read a novel where the writing was so beautiful, but the plot didn't measure up?  Let's not focus on book bashing here...I’m only interested in perspective – all kinds. :0)

Mina B.

10 comments:

REINHARDT! said...

There have been books that have exhausted me because I found the prose overly ornate. But I'll stop short of saying that all books shouldn't indulge. I'm one person, one kind of reader, and maybe others like that sort of thing.

I love literary fiction, but tend not to like the ones that have come out in the last ten years or so because I have felt that they have veered more and more into empty language with no plot or substance or heart. Ironically, I enjoy writers from other countries in translation. They seem to not have such an issue with overuse of modifiers.

That's what it comes down to--does the language fit the scene/character/setting? Most times when it doesn't, the label of "purple prose" gets thrown out.

Tara Tyler said...

what bothers me is wondering how a drudgery of words was published, while mine is brilliant (ha ha =)

all i can think is they found the agent/publisher for them and there must be a market for them...

Stacy Henrie said...

I recently read a book, that while written well, really didn't have a whole lot of plot. I kept going with it, though, because I liked the author's other stuff. So while I may keep reading, a book like that is probably not one I'd read again or recommend.

Michael Offutt said...

I definitely have read my share of purple prose. I don't care for it...but it does have a certain place when I'm in the mood.

Carrie Butler said...

I hate to realize I'm reading, if that makes any sense. If the book is good, I'll become totally absorbed in the story and forget everything else for a little while. :)

Mina Burrows said...

@REINHARDT! - I understand what you mean about recent lit. I know some people aren't fans of the classics, but I adore them. Tales like Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher is an excellent example of an author that commands the English language, perfectly balancing his writing with the story.

@Tara T. - You're right about the market - especially when an author's has a solid brand with a strong following...

@Stacie H. - I've read so many of these lately. I know what you mean.

@Michael O.- I tend to flip pages incessantly when I think the prose it too much. I try not to, but sometimes...

@Carrie B. - I know precisely what you mean. If the book causes me to pause...that's not good.

Ainsley Shay said...

there is nothing more satisfying than being "lost" in a book! that's why we (i) read, to escape reality for a little while. BUT - i don't want to be "lost" when i'm reading -when i have no idea what's going on or what the writer is trying to get across. and i agree - no matter how bad the book or writing is to someone else - writing is subjective and someone out there loves it! it just might not be the one we choose.

good post!

Leigh Ann said...

Really good point! I worry that my writing is too style-less, actually.

I have read a book where the prose was so stunning, but the plot didn't measure up. And you know what? I really didn't care. I could live wrapped up in those beautiful sentences forever and ever. *sigh*

mary said...

It's my natural inclination. My crit partners shoot a lot of it down. When I want emphasis, I keep it. So, yes, it's a matter of learning balance, which takes time and a lot of writing. I doubt I have it right yet. I love beautifully written stuff. I can get lost in that easy. But, yes, at some point the plot has to move on.

having trouble commenting on your blog.

Jessica Therrien said...

Times have changed. I was just at a writers conference where they talked about authors submitting re-typed portions of classic works (Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, etc.) and they were getting rejected by the same publishers that originally signed the authors! We readers what authors to get down to business these days lol...just an interesting observation. Thanks for visiting my blog Mina :)