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Posts tagged ‘Writing style’

Besetting Sentences

In St. Jago, der Hauptstadt des Königreichs Chili, stand gerade in dem Augenblicke der großen Erderschütterung vom Jahre 1647, bei welcher viele tausend Menschen ihren Untergang fanden, ein junger, auf ein Verbrechen angeklagter Spanier, namens Jeronimo Rugera, an einem Pfeiler des Gefängnisses, in welches man ihn eingesperrt hatte, und wollte sich erhenken.

Clear as mud? Allow me to provide a first-draft translation, the kind of thing you hack out before normalizing the word order and all:

In St. Jago, the capital of the Kingdom of Chili, stood just at the moment of the great earthquake of 1647, in which many thousands of people their downfall found, a young, of a crime accused Spaniard, on a pillar of the prison, in which one him locked-up had, and wanted to hang himself.  Read more

The Dog’s Breakfast

Look, something a certain author needs to grasp is that although you may like your writing style, and the book is (traditionally, indies don’t have this limitation) published so you can’t change it, that doesn’t mean that readers have to buy it or like it. Pretty much the only time you can force anyone to read anything is if it’s required for a class, and even then they will creatively dodge the reading assignment in any way they can think of. I’ve seen that with college textbooks, forget fiction. So why on earth would you boast about your poor writing and gloat over the readers not having a choice? Like it or lump it? Mister, they may set your book on fire just to watch the world burn. People don’t like the idea of being forced into anything, and pleasure reading is always optional.


When you confront your reader with, in the first paragraphs, sentences that don’t make sense, you are doing the worst thing to readers an author can do. Mislectorism. Betrayal. You’re showing your readers you hate them, and they will respond to it. “This particular ship has seen action: plasma scarring across the wings and tail fins; a crumpled dent in the front end as if it was kicked by an Imperial walker.” Look at that sentence. Consider that it is not alone. I don’t think I have ever seen as many colons in one passage in all the thirty-some years I have been reading. Nor have I seen this many sentence fragments in once place. I shudder to think of how many dashes and hyphens met their ends here. If I had to name this style I’d call it post-Modern chop suey, because everything is minced and mixed together until it resembles a dog’s breakfast.

This isn’t the first time I have encountered an all but unreadable book. I recently read for review the rough draft that had been published in ‘sample’ form of a book which I now discover to be more readable than the sample that has been draining my brain cells tonight. Stilted, sure, but at least it had sentences and dialogue.

dialogue exemplar

Dialogue from Solutrean Atlantis

I have to wonder, looking at the sample below, if it was meant to be read aloud. Perhaps the author was aiming more for screenplay, in a movie tie-in book? but for reading with the eyes, it is painfully disjointed, as the style persists beyond the spoken word into the structural elements of the work. With the ‘herky-jerky’ qualities, the book is left structurally unsound, tenses waver in and out of present like quantum universes, and the result is… unreadable.

SW aftermath dialogue

Dialogue from SW: The Aftermath

However, this is not the worst dialogue you will find in a published work. That distinction probably belongs to another book I shall-not-name although I will link to it. And then I will link to a review of it.

horrible writing

Dialogue exemplar from the book-that-shall-not-be-named.

So what is my point, with all these examples of bad, worse, and absolutely deplorable writing? I’m not trying to beat up on authors, here. Everyone makes mistakes. We all have bad days. But as an author, we cannot expect our readers to put up with the egregious errors we perpetrate when we are told repeatedly of those errors. If the reader’s don’t like how your story is written, don’t double down and say that the readers are wrong. Don’t try to blame the readers for your failings by telling them that they aren’t smart enough, hip enough, or… something… to understand and appreciate your work. That isn’t how this works. That’s not how any of this works.

Writing is, in essence, a seduction of the reader. You want to keep them reading, to intrigue them with the possibilities. Ideally, your prose should become invisible to them, a mere glass-clear pane they gaze through as they discover the world you have created in the story. By using stylistic writing, you cloud that pane and jar the reader out of the world. They are unlikely to make a second attempt once they have your measure. With the Star Wars books, this is particularly mystifying – the author had to have known the enormous fan base (and a rabid one) would not appreciate the ‘literary’ pretensions he adopted for his work.

The fans have already spoken, and the Aftermath is telling.

Aftermath reviews

Aftermath Review

aftermath review 2

But wait, there’s more…

Writing style

Snipped from a very long review, click to read all.

The moral of my story? Suck it up, buttercup. If you don’t, and keep spitting on your fans, you won’t have any fans.

Writing Pixie Noir

Pixie Noir

Pulp-inspired cover art.

I started out to write a little story to make my partner laugh. I didn’t start out to write something special, or anything other than fun, but I wound up with a novel, and then realized it’s a series, and… Pixie Noir started out of having a direction, and then it just grew.

We’d been having one of our rambling conversations about books, authors we like, and guilty pleasure reads. He admitted to a fondness for Mickey Spillane, but not the Hammer books. I don’t remember what sparked the desire to make him laugh, but I emailed him what would become the first scenes of Pixie Noir one day. He liked it so much I kept expanding it, and sending him snippets as I wrote. He’d give me suggestions (and earned the sobriquet Evil Muse during the six months I was writing this book) and help me with things like male-to-male dialogue. Turns out guys don’t talk to one another like girls think they do. Which makes sense, but… well, I’m a girl.

I write most of my stories because I have to write. Like an itch, they get in my head and nag me until I let them out on paper. Pixie Noir had this loud, brash, sardonic character who kept talking to me. I didn’t plan the story out much, I’m a pantser. I certainly did not plan out my characters, they were in my head as clearly as real people. I read an article the other day about how to develop a character and had to stop and go ‘huh’ as I have never had to do that. I do know that there are things I could not ask or force Lom to do – back down from a fight, open up even to Bella – because they are not in his nature. And Bella, who very practically decides that if she is no longer safe on Earth, why not take a job with the most dangerous man Underhill, if that’s what she wants?

I did set out to write romance into Pixie Noir, but I didn’t want to make it “a romance,” nor did I want them hopping into bed casually. It’s not that I can’t write sex, it’s that these two people, however fictional, had their own agendas and feelings, and I the author had to respect that. About the only things I could dictate were weaponry, like the multiple grenade launcher for Bella’s confrontation with Ogres, and her reaction was something like “ooh! Give me that.”

Much of the bit and pieces fell into place while I was talking with my Evil Muse, like the joke about in case of stairs, use fire. Some of it came out of deliberate research, as my marinating my brain in noir fiction, reading Spillane, L’Amour’s detective tales, and even Ian Fleming. When I needed just the right weapon for a short pixie and slender woman to use on Ogres when they couldn’t use much magic, I went to the Monster Hunter International group and asked the gun geeks, who had more fun than I could have imagined with that scenario! I’m grateful to Everitt Mickey for his technical assistance in the best way to use a logging truck to go bowling for Ogres.

Writing is not a solo concern. Everything I have ever read goes into the meatgrinder of my brain, spiced with research and a touch of craft, and what comes out is mighty tasty. Then, there’s the packaging, because while sausage might be delicious, no one wants to know how it’s made. I have found, personally, that I need to avoid reading modern in-genre fiction while I’m writing, because it affects my writing. I can, and will, read all sorts of other books, but I need some distance between me and the last urban fantasy I’ve read before writing Trickster Noir, for instance, just as I avoided reading any while I was writing Pixie. On the other hand, I have found that it’s terrific fun to have conversations about my characters as though they were real people. And anyone eavesdropping on us avidly plotting out Bella’s entrance to Court and conquest of Underhill by way of setting it (literally) on fire must have thought us quite mad. I hasten to assure you, by the way, that it was only a little fire, and there were extenuating circumstances on Bella’s part.

Writing doesn’t have to be hard work. Yes, it’s not easy, but the paradox is that the more fun you have with it, the more fun your reader will have, too. I started reading Ross MacDonald’s The Moving Target, to marinade my brain for Trickster Noir, the sequel to Pixie, and came across a great quote in the introduction. The novelist James M. Cain wrote, “to me, writing is the scrim through which the reader sees the story. If the writing is too fancy, or has patterns in it, there’s a conflict in the scrim. It disturbs the reader and he doesn’t see the story clearly.” When I sit down to write, I want to tell a story. Or rather, to dictate the story my characters are telling me. I hope you enjoy it, straightforward, shoot-from-the-hip as Lom is.

And where do you find this story? It’s available through Amazon, in print and ebook (DRM free, of course!). If you buy a print copy for signing, the ebook is available at a deep discount through the new MatchBook program.

Click on the little image above to buy, or try this link: Pixie Noir