What’s behind the words?

What’s behind the words?

It’s rather like “what’s behind the curtain?”  The answer of course may be ‘very little’ or ‘a funny little man’ (pay no attention to him. He’s a wizard, and they are irascible (if not subtle) and quick to anger, especially if you notice their trickery.)

I made a comment about building and not getting a lot of writing done, and one of my friends (Jim) commented that building was satisfying: at least every day you could see that you’d achieved.

As I was working on stuff I hoped no one, least of all me, would ever see (rock-wool) or notice as itself… I thought to myself that actually building and writing are not that different, really.

There are two schools of thought about this: the one (whether you’re talking about building, writing books, or running a stable) is that if the viewer doesn’t see the all the work, they won’t value the work.  In this version there’s lots of muck being shifted whenever you look in to the stables, the building has its inner-works on display, and the book has lots of grandiose wordage and every possible bit of background information included.  There’s nothing essentially wrong with this, it’s just the process rather than the result being showcased. There are limits of course on just how much process CAN be showcased.

The second is my preferred version (YMMV) where the stable is spotless (and if you ever worked in one, you KNOW it didn’t get like that without enormous amounts of work) the ‘works’ of the building are hidden and unobtrusive. The insulation is hidden, the joints are hidden behind the coving, the building just looks like it is there – but it is warm (or cool) and still inside. And yeah… that book. If I notice the writing… it’s distracting me from the story. The writing needs to be damn near invisible, it’s so easy, effortlessly accessible.

Now, given that I am to the building trade and fine craftsmanship what Godzilla is to wristwatch repair, it’s fair to say that you can’t help noticing some of my efforts. That’s not because I want you to! The same of course is true of my writing. But with building – coving and skirting, and little quarter round and some trim here and there… and industrial quantities of filler and glue, paint… and a bad light and lots of alcohol and most of it is invisible.  And, yeah the building is exceptionally strong and sound. The sheer inertia of the weight of bugle head hex screws, to say nothing on the overkill on materials makes far stronger than the better building skills of the professional builder. And yes I have researched their guidelines and required standards and said they might be cheap and adequate – but they look flimsy to an amateur like me, so I double up, and where they say either do this that or the next… I’ve likely done all three.

Which… um, really is not a bad recipe for a book too. Especially the alcohol part for the reader.

The more work you put into the bits the reader doesn’t see… the stronger it’ll be. I write character sketches (background and motivations) and dialogue samples for my characters – which readers see none of – but I know their voices and what makes them tick. I have vays of making them tock!

And editing is very like paint AND glue.

Image by skeeze from Pixabay


  1. Drawing from comments either here or at AtH, on some of the famous painters who most of the folks didn’t “get,” I can’t remember the guy’s name but he did paint splattering. It was very impressive….to people who understood what it meant as about the technique. Folks like me who just want a pretty picture, even if we’re really not sure what “pretty” is until we see it, are very hit or miss on if they like that stuff or not.

    But it’s the same thing as the ‘make sure they can see how hard you are working’ style — the folks who get joy from seeing the way that the writer got it put together, the way the words interplay as words, etc.
    While someone who doesn’t want words, they want the story, is going to be hit or miss on that– I’ll point out before anybody gets upset that this style can still have a great story and shift the reader’s mind to the point that they get more into the story than otherwise. Robin McKinley’s words are very…stylized? Not sure how to describe it, but you definitely notice the words, right up until you slip into the entirely different world and suddenly you don’t notice it anymore.

    Terry Pratchett used the “show your work” thing to amazing comedic effect, with his footnotes habits.

    1. On a similar vein, I’m not sure my amused interpretation of some of Picasso’s works were anywhere near what the critics had in mind; or perhaps anywhere near what was intended.(Most of them were ‘…uhm. Okay, sure, let’s go with that.’)

  2. From my grandfather, I learned that there are two ways to build things.
    “That’ll hold until I have the time to do it right”, and “I will never have to $^^$ with this again”.

    The look on my wife’s face when she discovered that the curtain rods we installed with 6″ legs was memorable.

    Naturally, I approve of your overkill.

  3. I was told today there is a whole genre of what are called “white paintings.” This is a canvas, painted white. Not just one, as a stunt. A whole fricking genre. Some go for seven figures at auction.

    I can paint a canvas white. I can use a roller, or a brush, I can even spray it. At my skill level, I can get it to come out automotive-level shiny, or rough like stone, or whatever is called for. (I’m a house painter, we can do stuff like that.)

    My white painting is not going to sell for seven figures at auction. Because one white canvas differs very little from another. What brings the money is the little signature in the corner. WHO painted it white, not how well they did it.

    This seems to imply that the work done to get that kind of money is not in the realm of art, but more in the realm of marketing and promotion. If you can get gallery owner thinking you are the next Warhol, then you can get 7 figures for a “White Cow in a Snowstorm” canvas.

    Its a bit disturbing.

      1. I’ve been considering doing “Black Poodle At Midnight On My Front Lawn” but thought it might be too dark.

        We got him a light-up collar when he was little, because he’d fricking -vanish- at night.

        Now I have a proper fence, so he can be as invisible as he wants. Still inside the fence.

        1. So you should do the Black Poodle with.his.collar! That would be an awesome painting …. 17 glow in the dark spots on a perfectly black canvas.

          1. 17 glowing spots would be a picture -of- something, which apparently isn’t allowed.

            I know, its another idiocy that used to be a joke but now hangs in museums.

            But a white canvas requires some work, right? You do have to paint it. Solution:


            “A banana duct-taped to a wall has sold for $120,000 (£91,550) at one of North America’s most prestigious art shows, with another version of the artwork expected to sell for $150,000 (£114,460).

            The prized installation, by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan, was unveiled at the Art Basel Miami Beach on Wednesday by the Parisian contemporary art gallery Perrotin.”

            He didn’t even sign it.

            Does this explain publishing in 2020? Maybe.

  4. I keep a folder of inspirational character dialogue that I snip as I travel around the web. Don’t use a lot of them, but I guess they act like a comfort blanket of sorts.

  5. Writing has the advantage of beta readers–if you’re lucky enough to collect a batch who will notice the lack of insulation, the need for some spackle over there and bluntly tell you the paint colors really ought to not change mid-wall.

    The readers, the ones that pay you, really don’t need to know about all those fiddly little details.

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