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.

0 Responses to Writing Through Changes

  • Hi Nina, this is a subject recently discussed at my chapter meeting. We all agreed that many of the greats, like my favorite, Jane Austen, wouldn’t make it in this day and age unless they learned to tighten their writing. Good thing they lived when they did because I love Jane’s descriptive flow.

    • Darah – I think that is so true. An editor would pass that over without a second thought. And yet … *sigh* I can’t imagine not having her books to enjoy.

  • I agree with Darah – today there is very little done to set the mood or the scene. It’s all about dropping the reader directly into the life of your characters. One author who does it and does it well is Guy Gavriel Kay, with his great works of fantasy. His prose is to die for, the stuff of dreams. But, no, Jane Austen would wither and die unless she changed her style. I think readers will give a book maybe thirty to fifty pages to draw them it, and that’s stretching it.

    • Julia – I don’t think they give a book fifty pages. One chapter and it better suck them into the story or they’re moving on to the next book in their pile.

  • I still believe that putting your characters in a believable, tangible world, full of distinctive sights, sounds and smells is essential – that readers want this. The conventions for how an author manages this have changed, it’s true. You can’t spend paragraph after paragraph on description, but a book that’s nothing but action (even internal action) seems skeletal, to me at least. You’ve got to work the description in gradually, use it, in fact, to help define your characters.

    I have little patience, personally, for books that seem to play themselves out in some generic environment with no distinctive characteristics. The “mood” helps sharpen the characterization and in some cases even propels the action.

    Just my two cents!


    • Lisabet – You put that so eloquently. The description has got to be threaded through the action, I totally agree. A book without a mood is like cake without icing.

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