Good Writing Advice

I found an excellent piece of writing advice in Randy Boyagoda's  New York Times review of Charlies Frazier's novel Nightwoods.

It’s too bad the writing gets in the way of the storytelling — or, to be truer to Frazier, it’s plangently unfortunate the writing style gets all up and troublesome-like in the whisper-leaved way of the true and fine telling of this terrible and valiant tale of priapic violence and distaff recompense. A little girl doesn’t hurt her nose, she “pierced the wing of her nostril.” Bottles don’t spill or break, they are left “shattering with spewing concussion” and falling “in festive breakage.” Furniture doesn’t just age with time and use, but instead is “buffed to a pale silver nub by many decades of buttocks.” Writing that invites this much attention, that so strives to concentrate our attention on its effects, has to achieve more than precious and overwrought evocation.

That's so true. If you're a writer, that's advice worth remembering.

4 thoughts on “Good Writing Advice”

  1. I do not want to read anything that has “pale silver nub” and “buttocks” in the same book, much less in the same sentence.
    Going back to being a storytelling Philistine now with a greater appreciation for it!

  2. It seems that he’s striving a bit too much in trying to create a great literary read for the reader.
    The way I understand it, is that a story beat (a paragraph) is divided into, maybe, five sentences. The first is the topic sentence, and only a single word of it contains the focus. The next three sentences contain the details that define the focus. The last sentence makes the point and contains the key word or phrase that leads to the construction of the next story beat.
    For instance:
    The first sentence could be: “I liked the movie.”
    But this doesn’t contain a focus word. So much better is: “I liked the ACTION movie.”
    Sentence 2 defines some of the action:
    “The Hero actually dug up a building and threw it into the ocean.”
    Sentence 3 tells what happened next for this action:
    “When the building began to sink, a huge whirlpool formed and thousands of ships were drawn into the vortex.”
    Sentence 4 completes the action:
    “The crew on these poor ships tried valiently to escape but could not, and the ships were all sucked underwater, drowning thousands.”
    Sentence 5 makes the point and provides the next key word or phrase for the following story beat:
    “This vived action sequence was chilling in its impact on the audience, and incredibly REALISTIC.”
    The next story beat looks at the REALISM of the special effects.
    Anyway, modern writing seems to work best when the writer is cool. Hot writing, that strives for an effect, especially through vivid word choice, seems to grow uninvolving the further into the story we get. But cool writing, based around a single telling word in the topic sentence builds up a more and more involving reading experience. That’s the way it seems to me.

  3. I don’t know, Richard. Those Raymond Chandler similes, for example (“he looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angle food cake”), were usually rather arty, drew attention to themselves, and in my experience helped to cast a spell rather than break one. And the stories of Chandler are famously convoluted. His work is only tangentially about story it could be argued.


Leave a Comment