Monday, December 28, 2009

Words, How I Love Thee. (Or the difference between a book I want to read and a steaming pile of feces)

  While soaking my holiday-plumped body in mango scented bubbles this afternoon, I attempted to read a [most dreadful] new book I received from Santa. My mind, as it so often does when trying to muddle through a shit-bomb of a first chapter, wandered and pondered:

 What makes one string of words a magical, enchanting experience and another a string of turds stuck to my dogs butt? 

What makes me want to throw one book across the room by page 2, or [better yet] conversely, what captivates me, what exactly is it that makes me want to praise the Universe/God/gods/[whatever you want to insert here] for the majestic person who wrote such a sublime story that transports me right out of my mango bath and into their world?

For the record, I am a reading/genre omnivore. Let it be known that I DO enjoy light/fun/funny/raunchy humor/rom-com/romance/action-adventure/mystery/thriller/dystopian/fantasy/sci-fi as much as the next guy/girl, lest you think I'm a snob. (Yes, I do love James Joyce, Tolstoy, Dickens, Hardy, and all the other literary greats...very, very much. Yes, I lean towards literary fiction, and literary magical realism/fantasy, but there are masterpieces and gems in every "category"- and stinky pooh in all of them as well.) Evocative prose and good story-telling is my jam. Even with film, even if it's silly, if it's well-written, I'm in. All in. (The Hangover? Good times!) I love my guilty pleasure reading: I want, no NEED, Stephanie to forget Morelli and get back to gettin' busy with Ranger! Those books have me busting out laughing at every turn, even if I'm sitting in the orthodontist's lobby waiting for my spawn to have her teeth rewired. And Sookie needs to forget that lame-ass Bill once-and-for-all. (I lurve me some Eric.) Interesting characters, great pacing and stories that resonate can overcome a lack of pretty/literary writing any day of the week. But for my time and money, it better have most of the above to be worthy of print. 

 There is a certain RARE magic when nearly every sentence is so perfect, so sublime that one must stop and re-read a passage before moving on...a morsel so savory, so succulent that one must luxuriate in every last chewy bit, extract every flavor before moving on to the next orgasmic bite.
That kind of reading/writing is scarce. But that kind of fine dining isn't how you want to eat for every single meal anyway. But I DO want all my meals and snacks to be tasty. I DONT want to eat from a dirty bedpan/read doo-doo.

So, as I marinated in my bath today, after chucking the [fecal] book across the floor (soon to be recycled; I cannot in good conscience pass it on to another. That would just be bad karma.) I thought about what, in my opinion, makes a book reek of sewage.

So, here is my [incomplete] list of my personal Pet Peeves/Writing Don'ts:

1) If the first paragraph begins with the weather or a dream sequence. You'd better have a SUPER fresh take on it to pull either of those off. They're stale.

2) Lazy/sloppy writing. This covers a lot of territory, and if you have to question what it means, there are  many brilliant books on writing well (please start with the classic The Elements of Style by Strunk and White). But I must mention one of my least favorite lazy-writer habits, most often seen in thriller/suspense novels: Using acronyms without first giving us the long-hand version. Don't assume we know what it stands for. It is annoying and frustrating, and I tend to make something up-- when you say AO, and you mean Arresting Officer, but never bothered to tell us that, well, I tend to think it stands for Asshole Offends, and this Asshole is Out!

3) Overuse of: a favorite word, a favorite phrase, cliche and "style". Yes, we all have our "voice",  slang we are smitten with, favorite words tics and punctuation style. I know my bad habit/echo words/phrases and thus I do a search and replace/delete. (And this is exactly why we have a Rough Draft, and the subsequent REWRITEs/EDITing. And why we have editors.) But I've been seeing pubbed books with some sloppy editing lately.  


I'm not trying to be condescending. Honest. I'm just a humble reader trying to learn how to be a good writer. To learn from other's mistakes.

   Here are just a few of the words I personally don't want to see more than once per book (if that):

a) chagrin/chagrined
b) nefarious
c) Oh. My. God. I. Am. So. Tired. Of. This. Make. It. Stop!! Please. Just. Don't.
d) Enough said. (once per book, enough said.)
e) 'aching/throbbing groin/manhood straining against his pants.' Either find a more original way to say this, or skip it. If you can't write a good, fresh sex scene, don't. Fade to black.
f) manhood. Ew. If you're going to talk about it, don't be coy. Or don't talk about it.
g) exclamation points! What we can use casually in blog posts/social media/texts is different than what works in a story. My rule of thumb is unless it's in dialog, there's almost no reason to use one. And even in dialog, it should be used sparingly, and used in a yell or scream for help or something of that nature. Like: "The house is on fire, GET OUT!" Maybe there should be only a 3-4, at most, in a 400 page novel.


4) Pacing. Something interesting should happen on the very first page, and every page thereafter. I am as enamored with eloquent sentences and skillful metaphors as the next girl, but lush prose or not, you must move the story forward... and maybe blow something up or scalp someone.
(Speaking of scalping, wasn't Inglorious Basterds entertaining?! So damn good. But, there were some scenes that dragged. Example: Before the one dude came out of the tunnel, the hitting of the bat against the wall went on just a little too long. There were several times that happened. Yes, one wants to build up tension and suspense, but it can get weird and LONG. If it doesn't add to the story, move it along.)

Yes, there are exceptions to all the rules. :)


Words are things; and a small drop of ink
Falling like dew upon a thought, produces
That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think.
~ Lord Byron, poet (1788-1824)


Happy Reading and Writing,
Lola

2 comments:

Lindsay said...

I will keep your pet-peeves in mind while writing...

I haven't, but I was wondering what you thought of Eat, Love, Pray if you have read it....

x

Lola Sharp said...

I have read it (in fact, it was one of the nearly 400 books), and I enjoyed it greatly.

That said, I enjoyed it more for her writing style and voice, as well as the travel/cultural aspects more than her actual issues or 'story'. I found her a bit, hmmmm...I dont know if I want to say spoiled and weak, because that's not quite right. But I didnt relate to her emotional meltdown/sitch very well. I wont say much more than that, so as not to taint it in any way for you.

But I definitely recommend reading it. For a woman.

My gay neighbor loves travel extensively, especially off the beaten path countries. I loaned him the book, and while he enjoyed the travel (she describes her locations and their people/cultures very well), he really disliked her story. I cant imagine a straight man tolerating it at all. Definitely a chick book.

If you decide to read it, please let me know what you think of it.

Wish I was in Spain right now. It is my husbands favorite country to visit. (I love it too, but I LOVE Paris, and southern coastal France...I know, two opposite ends of the country)

It's snowing and bitter cold (17 F) here in our part of the states right now. Poo-stinky.

Have a great ret of your weekend,
Lola

May your pen be mighty

May your pen be mighty

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Lola Sharp
My name is Lola. (I'm not a showgirl) Yes, L-O-L-A Lola. It's the least of my worries. Let's move on, shall we? This blog is mostly about my misadventures on the journey to publication and beyond. My passion for lush prose, quirky characters, art, music, literature, performing arts and anything creative will be a major theme here. This journey of mine will not always be pretty. Much like rubbernecking a train wreck, I know sometimes you just can't help but look at the carnage that is often my life. So strap on your neck brace, helmet and 5-point harness and come along for the ride! Licentia poetica.
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