This past weekend I attended the monthly meeting of the Maine chapter of RWA. I love these ladies. We laugh. We share triumphs. We share rejections. It’s wonderful. I have to travel a long way to visit my homegirls, but it’s totally worth it. To make the long drive over hours of lonely highway much more enjoyable, I listen to audio books.
Dean Koontz is one of my favorite authors and this weekend was no exception. He has such an amazing way with words. His prose are stellar. Descriptive. Full bodied and rich. *sigh* He’s my idol in that arena. I just sink into his long descriptions and lose myself in his vivid imagery.
But I have to admit, I keep wondering in this day and age how he gets away with it. Now, I just told you how much I love it. How I enjoy his scenes. But he can go on for a page or more about the window panes and the storm brewing outside. Of course there’s a point to it, still … I know my editor would never let me wax poetic about the storm, the trees and the character’s perceptions of what was happening. Though I’d dearly love to. It seems few readers enjoy long passages of prose. It’s frowned upon.
At my chapter meeting, multi-published author, Susan Vaughan gave an excellent workshop on building scenes. She referenced books by Jack Bickham and Dwight Swain. Though the structure and the techniques are still valid, there were some things that didn’t quite work in today’s publishing world. Susan did say several times “but of course things have changed since these books were written”.
And it’s so true.
Now don’t get me wrong. Great writing is great writing. There is no getting around the fact that you can’t string some flowery language together, throw in a little hot sex and have a story. The characters need to tug at the heartstrings of the reader and the writing has to captivate. And there’s the rub for so many authors.
A great many readers (who aren’t buying by author name) pick up a book because of an intriguing cover, turn to the back cover blurb and if they’re still intrigued, will venture into the first chapter. If you’ve gotten them this far then you’d better be sure that first page, even the first paragraph, heck, to be truthful, the FIRST LINE grabs the reader and pulls them in. An author has only a very small window to convince a reader this story is worth plunking down their hard earned money and investing in the adventure. There is very little wiggle room for an author these days.
There is no time to lull the reader with pretty paragraphs setting the scene. Today’s readers are all about the action. And I’m not talking about dramatic action. There doesn’t have to be guns, blood or danger, but the action of the character. An event occurring that keeps the reader moving forward with curiosity and intrigue.
Is it the world we live in? Have we become so “clicker friendly” with immediate access to nearly everyone through the phones and the computers we have with us at all times that we expect immediate satisfaction in everything? I think, if it’s not the cause, it’s certainly a contributing factor.
I must admit I enjoy a wonderfully crafted paragraph of prose. Even two or three, but I think I’m the exception. I’m sure my editor would use her purple highlighter if I ever sent her a manuscript with a couple of paragraphs of pure description. I get it. I don’t mind. But sometimes I do wish we could go back to the slower pace of writing when description wasn’t a four letter word.