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Writing like a Vampire

Discussion in 'Café Life' started by Paul Whybrow, Oct 9, 2017.

  1. Paul Whybrow

    Paul Whybrow Venerated Member

    This article on writing technique, by Gothic novelist Anne Rice, set me thinking.

    How I Do It: Anne Rice on Writing Technique

    After recently admitting that I've been haunted by my own fictional characters, I wondered how she gets through life day-to-day if she follows her own advice in Point 15 when writing from a single point of view. Going for dinner with her would entail eating lots of rarely cooked beef and quaffing copious amounts of Bulls Blood red wine!

    Writing advice from famous writers is often contradictory. Anne Rice praises the use of adjectives and adverbs in Point 6, something that's commonly decried by writing gurus. She places emphasis on how a page is 'engineered'—that is, how it's laid out in terms of paragraph length—she favours one word and very short paragraphs. Sentence fragments are no sin to Anne Rice.

    I've previously commented on paragraph length, after reading a novel with inordinately long paragraphs. In my own writing, I favour a mix of short paragraphs and meatier paragraphs—in constructing a crime novel, my detective protagonist has to work out what clues mean and that's not done instantly in a couple of sentences!

    Just recently, I read 'he', a fictional imagining of Stan Laurel's life, by John Connolly. He normally writes crime thrillers with a paranormal edge, and his sentences, paragraphs and chapter lengths follow the norm. But, 'he' had very short sentences and paragraphs, with most chapters being less than three pages. This truncated way of writing suited what he was doing by getting into Stan Laurel's head, as he sat in retirement looking back on his career, wandering from one film industry character to another in his benign way—trying to work out his own life through the wrong end of time's telescope.

    The look of a page is certainly something to consider, especially in times where people have limited concentration spans and they consume and broadcast information in 140 characters. As an advanced reader, :rolleyes: I'm experienced in forging through big blocks of text, but I see the attraction of turning pages that look unthreatening (not boring?) laid out in short sections, with plenty of space between and a nice variety of dialogue and description.

    While writing your own stories, and when lost in the jungle of editing your manuscript, do you pause to consider how the page looks? We all want to encourage readers into our books, not build walls to keep them out by intimidating them with huge blocks of prose.

    All the same, I'm slightly cynical about the process of making something 'easy to read' as it veers towards dumbing down—not everything comes in 'fun size'—reading is supposed to stretch minds, not restrict them.

    Mind you, Anne Rice has sold almost 100,000,000 copies of her novels...perhaps she's onto something!

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  2. Robinne Weiss

    Robinne Weiss Venerated Member

    David Hill, a writer I did a workshop with this past weekend, was talking about this very thing--making sure the page looks unthreatening by varying paragraph length, making sure there's plenty of white space (making full use of those blank lines between scenes). As a heritage interpreter, making signage, this was always a huge consideration--a panel full of long blocky paragraphs looks like too much work to bother reading, but break up the same text in to bite-size chunks and give plenty of white space around it, and suddenly it's inviting. It's not so much about making it easy to read; it's more about making it appear to be easy to read. A reader looks at the page and says, "Yeah, I can read this little paragraph--it's short." They finish that paragraph and look to the next. "Oh, and this one is short, too. I can do that." Then they see that they're very near to the end of the chapter and think, "Yes, I can finish this chapter." Pretty soon they've read the whole book, feeling the whole time like it was an 'easy' read.
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  3. Paul Whybrow

    Paul Whybrow Venerated Member

    I agree with this subtle approach to luring a reader into tackling more than they might otherwise do if confronted with vast blocks of print. The pedant in me objects to how dividing a story into bite-sized chunks often breaks the rules of grammar. I was taught to write according to the one paragraph-one idea model, with the most important point about a topic at the beginning of the paragraph. A new paragraph would begin with a change of topic or speaker. Recently, when editing my own work, I've found myself objecting to the appearance of long paragraphs, chopping them into segments, even though I hadn't exhausted what I had to say about a topic. This sometimes forces me to insert linking dialogue—more to satisfy me—I'm not sure that a modern reader would notice.

    As proof of how fashions in page layout change with time, I recently acquired a book titled A Short History of Reconstruction, to help me research this post-American Civil War period for my WIP. The paperback, published in 1988, is an abridged version of a much longer work by Eric Foner, who won six literary prizes for his vast tome. Even though the paperback is only 260 pages long, the paragraph length is intimidating, sometimes occupying an entire page. It's a scholarly work, so the prose is dry to the point of being dusty. It almost makes me want to place my bookmark under the line I'm on, so as not to lose my place...I haven't started reading out loud yet, but I might! :p
  4. Amber

    Amber Active Member

    She's written the most evocative descriptions I've ever read. Her descriptions have purpose and meaning. I get tired of people saying there's something wrong with adverbs. Just as pasta and birthday cake and broccoli all have a place in a healthy diet -- so does every part of speech has a place in writing. They wouldn't exist otherwise.

    Realizations often happen instantly.

    Something to consider -- it isn't just that its more attractive or our short attention span -- although I'm sure that plays its part. Given we don't know everything about how our mind processes written language, it's possible more is being communicated. Paragraph engineering might be as important as punctuation. I'm pretty sure it is.


    Although, not because I'm afraid of intimidating the reader.

    I hear writers say this all the time. If I understand you correctly, what you're saying isn't logical. Ease of reading doesn't always equal lack of mind stretching. Difficult reading doesn't always equal mind stretching. These are false equivalencies. You have choices and the reader has choices. As an author, would you rather write something which:

    a - Stretches the mind and is easy to read.


    b - Is difficult to read and stretches the mind.

    The answer is pretty obvious to me.

    I suppose the only exception would be if you wanted to write a story which demanded more challenging language. Which is cool. There's nothing wrong with writing a story with more challenging language. A lot of people will probably like it. Only, be prepared for people not to like it. Also, understand your priority at that point isn't the reader, but something else. Maybe your story. Maybe not.

    My guess is if a story is difficult to read and no one wants to read it, perhaps the author has made a bad decision which doesn't serve the reader or the story.
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