Sunday, July 15, 2012

Quality does matter

There's a quote from John Gardner (The Art of Fiction) that gets thrown around a lot, about a story being a vivid and continuous dream. It comes to mind because I was browsing books this weekend, reading snippets here and there--which really made me notice differences in voice and style. I was reminded how much I like and admire the writing of Courtney Summers. She never falters, never seems to put a word wrong, in creating a believable narrative. Talk about vivid and continuous! Other writers whose work has this effect on me include Melina Marchetta, Peter Cameron, and David Levithan.

When I read less polished writing, it's as if I can see into the machinery, see the gears struggling to mesh. Adverbs stick their feet out to trip the reader. Words that sound alien to the narrator's vocabulary intrude. Extraneous details gum up the works. The rhythm is choppy or, more often, labored, struggling to break through the clutter. Cliches lie, slug-like, in the middle of the path. The author shows us something and then, to make sure we didn't miss it, tells us too. Or the author forgets to tell us where we are, leaving the characters floating in space with our mind's eye trying to land them.

For all the talk about how good writing isn't what sells books, it's still a relief to find good writing. A great concept will make me pick up a book, but if the prose jabs red-hot thumbs in my eyeballs every other sentence, I'll put it down again. I want that vivid and continuous dream. And if a narrator draws me in and serves as good--and believable--company, I will follow him or her anywhere.


  1. I sorta miss the days when I could read a book and not pay a bit of attention to the writing. However, I do love finding that combination of prose that sings combined with a fabulous story. What a treat!

    1. I really notice it when something *isn't* written well. It can be painful to read.