09 May 2012
Am I boring you?
I've had my head down these past days reading an awful lot of other people's (unpublished) work. I've come across all the usual problems such as wooden dialogue, lack of immediacy, clunky sentences etc. I've offered solutions and suggestions but one word kept drifting into my head as I struggled to prop my eyes open.
It's all very well thinking up a cracking plot or compelling characters but it will all come to naught without the ability to be interesting. Even the most exciting thriller can be dull if the writer lacks the ability to make it so. A woman deciding whether to buy Brussels sprouts or a cabbage can be equally fascinating in the right hands. It's all about engaging the reader. This can be done by various means; variety of pace, the precise word, a sharp observation, an original image. It's all about the words you choose and the flexibility of language. It's not what you write, it's the way you write it. It's called Voice. And with all the will in the world, if the voice is flat, so will your writing.
So let's celebrate writing that's interesting. Let's rejoice in words: the precise placing of a comma, the appropriateness of an image. But not fancy or complicated words that call attention to themselves. No-one elikes a show-off. It's the ability to find the extra-ordinary in the ordinary, that deeper stretch of the imagination that makes language sing.
Take this: simple words but clean, sharp and precise. They ripple outwards like a pebble tossed in a pond. Memorable.
Some time ago, long before I discovered the Hvalsalen in Bergen Museum, I found the vertebra of a whale. It was on the low turf of an uninhabited Hebridean island, just up from the beach. It was perfectly bleached, and some yellow sea pansies had taken advantage of the shelter it afforded; they bloomed within the oval where the spinal cord would have passed.
We can't all write prose like Kathleen Jamie. But we can try.