You know how people say to just yank the bandage or duct tape off in one move to make it less painful? Do you believe that? When you go swimming do you ease in one toe at a time or just do a cannonball? Is that how you like your fiction, to hit you with information all at once, or do you prefer the slow reveal?
This isn’t something I ever thought about in the past, but recently a couple of books have made me stop and ponder the styles being taught in writer’s workshops and wondering what editors and agents are doing to support their authors. I am not a writer, but in my mind, when writing a novel, one presents the information when it is needed in the story. When a character is introduced, there is description that can later be enhanced with mannerisms and dialog. Background information about characters, setting, and things the reader may need to know about the issues are sprinkled throughout dialog and narrative.
I’ve recently read a couple of books where this did not seem to be the norm. In one, each character is described in elaborate detail when they are introduced. Clothing, personality, relationship to protagonist, and it’s all peppered with adjectives. I could sort of handle that, but then a different elaborate description is given when the character came into a different scene. I felt like I was reading something from a middle school class where the students were taught to describe characters, wrote up descriptions, and plopped ’em into the manuscript. Almost every character received this detailed attention, even those tertiary to the plot. It slowed down my reading, not because it made the book longer, but because it was annoying. More importantly, it was distracting from what was an interesting, well-plotted mystery.
The same thing happened with descriptions of the setting or information needed to understand the mystery. Early in the story, the characters couldn’t just drive down the street in Washington, D.C. and see the cherry trees and make a remark. No, the narration jumps in and tells us that they were a gift from Japan in 1912, plus a lot of historical or botanical information that could have been revealed later in the story, as clues were found as to who was mutilating and poisoning the trees. I felt like the author had done so much research he needed to get it all in there, instead of treating the information needed for the story with the respect it deserved.
I can see another viewpoint on this of the enthusiastic, possibly first time author who wants to give her readers everything they need and finds the cherry tree topic fascinating, but where were the editors? Am I the first person to notice this in the author’s style? I actually felt depressed after reading because I didn’t know how I would write the review. Remember, I did like the mystery.
Then I picked up my next selection. It might have been written just for me, in the way I like to get my information. Readers don’t even discover that the protagonist has a spouse until 9% on the e-reader, although the son is mentioned right away. The clothing is mentioned in context with movement such as crossing legs at her ankles to show off the Christian Louboutin shoes rather than a head to toe description from a designer’s look book. The dialog gave insight into the characters by adding phrases onto the end of dialogue such as she said warmly with her kind brown eyes.
I have always known what genres and authors I enjoyed, but I thought of style in terms of picky details. There are a few authors whose stories I like in general, but the dialog always seems fake, or the allusions to pop culture are way off, or times don’t match up. For example, the child of a Vietnam veteran remembering him going away to war, but the book is written in the present and the child is just off to college. These are things that stand out to me personally. Now I am thinking more about the whole writing style. Putting the story together with a good mix of adjectives and verbs, narration and dialog, revealing the plot at a pace appropriate to the genre.
So, this was a big, semi-coherent rant! I hope it describes specific style elements that bothered me in some books lately, as well as what I like. But do I mention this in detail when writing my reviews? Say that I found the style awkward, without specifics? Or don’t mention it at all?
What about you? Are there things about a writer’s style that you notice?
Note: Scenarios in this post are not from any books I have ever read or been told about. I made up descriptions to assist with understanding the point.
- Hands typing from Death to the Stock Photo
- cherry trees by Joe Mabel on Wikimedia
- woman reading on rugs from eastwords on flickr