So, it seems that I managed to take another 8-week sabbatical this holiday season. However, unlike last year, this one was not full of family, friends, and celebrations (although we spent a lovely day at my brother’s house on Christmas). At home, we had only one tree instead of our usual five, and only two of our wreaths made it out of their boxes. While I had managed to get the cookie jars and reindeer distributed, there wasn’t a single Santa, snowman, angel, polar bear or penguin to be seen.
No, at the beginning of December, I managed to wreck my knee. Not quite sure how, as the pain wasn’t there before I stood up. I don’t remember falling, or tripping – though I have to confess I trip so often it wouldn’t register in and of itself. I am definitely not a Tuesday child full of grace, and when they make a Sunday Child, grace is the one positive attribute they just happen to leave out.
At any rate, I’ve spent the last 8 weeks using a walker or wheelchair and in pretty extreme pain. Things are finally getting better, but it’s following that old “two steps forward, one step back” rule. And since painkillers tend to make me less than lucid, I’ve spent my time reading instead of writing or blogging.
But I’ve made some real progress in my reading: my grandmother left me about 600 mystery novels published from the 50s to 70s, and I’ve chewed my way through about half of them. Some are great, some are pretty pitiful, but all of the authors were popular when the books were printed. Many of them would have a very hard time finding an audience now.
Styles have changed so much through the past 30 years or so. Leisurely descriptions are no longer in vogue. Dialogue tags, however fanciful, are frowned upon. And adverbs – heaven help the author who puts an adverb in every paragraph.
No, right now the pros tell use that the use of language must be limited to nouns, verbs and a smattering of adjectives. Description cannot be flowerly, cannot exist for the mere sake of description. Every single word must add to characterization or move the plot along.
Last year, I read several modern books, most of which came highly recommended. One of them stood out from the pack: What Boys Are Made Of by S. Hunter Nisbet. Not because the writing was flowery, or there were leisurely descriptions, or because adverbs abounded. No, because the minimalist style was so beautifully suited to the story. It would be hard for me to imagine that book being so effective if it were written in any other style.
If What Boys Are Made Of had been a romance, I’d have been very disappointed in the style and flavor of it. Yet I’ve read romances that utilize that same style; they’ve left no lasting impression on me.
One of the hardest things for writers right now, I believe, is to decide WHICH style rules to follow, WHAT style best suits our story. With so many people – professional writers and editors, textbook creators, and bloggers like you and me – putting their advice out there for everyone to see, it’s simply not possible to write a book and follow all these rules.
So get out there and be daring! Tell your love story with flowery descriptions, your hero-quest with profligate adverbs, your historical with dauntingly clear details of the scenery. Give it a go!
You’ll never know how good it can be if you don’t try it.
Because the best thing about writing in this day and age is that if you don’t like what you come up with, it’s really easy to revise.
2 thoughts on “Getting back in the swing of things”
I too have had a bit of a writing hiatus, mine due to two broken wrists – I feel your pain! And I so agree with the gist of this blog post. There is almost a glut of advice available to new writers, and sometimes all that information is very nearly paralyzing. Personally I love, love, love flowery description, and I take heart that a few modern authors – James Lee Burke! – still manage to carry it off. I am working hard toward a balance of “oooh lovely!” and succinct!
Oh, Cathy, both wrists at the same time — agh! Hope you’re feeling better. I really can’t imagine how you’ve managed.
I’m not familiar with Burke, but he sounds like my kind of writer. I’ll check him out next time I go to the library. I have a hunch we might be headed back toward more flowery descriptions, and I agree with your approach: lovely, but succinct. I’ve seen your lines on Twitter, and I do believe you’re succeeding with it! Have a lovely day!