Wednesday, March 30, 2011
A few months ago a writer friend of mine told me that she thought she might be ruined forever to reading because of her writing. I thought I understood what she meant, but I don’t think I really did at the time. Now I do.
We, as writers, can get so bogged down with style and craft issues that the actual power of our words can be forgotten. I’m not saying toss every rule aside, but I am saying don’t lose the passion of the words just to fit inside a stylistic box. It’s great to have guidelines – not hard and fast rules. Writing is still an art, first and foremost. If you never practice with words considered purple, how can you ever learn to use them well?
I came across this passage last week, and it struck me for two reasons: The first is that the power of the words gave me chills. The second is that if this had gone to an editor in today’s publishing world, it would have most likely been edited out in the first round.
Do yourself a favor and read this passage out loud:
The castle of Cair Paravel on its little hill towered up above them; before them were the sands, with rocks and little pools of salt water, and seaweed, and the smell of the sea and long miles of bluish-green waves breaking forever and ever on the beach. And oh, the cry of the seagulls! Have you heard it? Can you remember?
The first sentence would not only be criticized as too long but would be labeled as “purple.” And dear God, the POV police would lock the author in prison and throw away the key for the last two sentences. When I read this out loud, I get tears in my eyes. I don’t have to know why they are on a beach or what the GMC is. I don’t care that the second independent clause is passive voice or that the author broke out of third-person past to address the reader directly. I only have to close my eyes to see the beach, smell the briny sea, hear the lonely cry of the seagulls, and the waves washing up on the shore because I am right there with them.
In some ways I, too, am ruined to reading and in other ways my eyes are just opened to it. I don't want to get so ingrained in the mechanics of my writing that I miss the opportunity for something great – something that will give my readers chills or bring tears to their eyes. This is, after all, why I write.
This passage is from CS Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. If you have not read it, I recommend it.