Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Getting poetic

I was already thinking about this when Beth Kephart blogged about it: how much I've come to appreciate beautifully written prose. Plot reigns in the world of novels, and probably it should. More than anything, readers long for something to happen. Many writers have been forgiven less-than-stellar turns of phrase for the sake of a juicy story.

But I'm finding that I want more than a good story. I also want the words to cast a spell. When the writer has carefully chosen every word, the world-building becomes seamless. I'm enchanted, immersed. I trust the author to lead me anywhere.

I recently read a book that boiled over with drama and conflict. It should have been more fun than it was. But poor word choices kept jolting me out of the story: cliches, repetition, telling what should have been shown. Characters did and said things that made no sense. I could see the cracks in the scenery.

In The Shelf: From LEQ to LES: Adventures in Extreme Reading, Phyllis Rose criticized writing that was too poetic. Writing that was overdone, at time obscure, trying too hard to impress. She praised clear, concise writing. And I know what she's talking about. I don't want poetic gymnastics that go nowhere. I don't want a writer to show off, leaving in all her "darlings" at the expense of the story.

But more and more, I appreciate the writer who presents me with a dream-world so tightly woven that I can inhabit it fully, with all five senses. I search for the skilled, the exacting, the vivid, the original, the lush.


  1. I know what you mean. While I like many books that are just fun, fast reads, my favorites have exquisite prose, too. Neil Gaiman is my penultimate example of this; super fun to read and great plot, nothing too serious, but every sentence is enjoyable and shines.