Monday, October 20, 2014

Full Contact Writing

I have carpal tunnel. It’s a side effect of typing at a computer for most of the day, every day, for the past twenty years. Many people have it and we’ve figured out how to live with it. I also study karate, and that requires impact on my wrists at times. One of my teachers can always tell when I’ve been doing a lot of writing because my wrists are more tender than usual. The last time he noticed, he said to me “Full contact writing again?” I laughed because karate-related injuries can happen in our dojo and we all know how to deal with them, but writing isn’t a contact sport. It’s sitting in a chair all day, and the only things moving are your fingers.

After I went home, though, I thought about what he said.

Full Contact Writing.

Actually, that *is* what I do, or, at least, what I strive to do. I don’t mean this in a physical sense, like chucking a book at someone’s head. I mean mentally, intellectually, and emotionally. When I read a great story, it makes an impact on me. A hard hit in karate can leave bruises, which usually last about a week. In a good book, the characters and situations leave an impression on my mind, sometimes for days after I’ve finished it.

A book that can do this has effectively used all the working parts: relatable and interesting characters, unpredictable plot, vivid and believable world-building, increasing tension, satisfying conclusion, etc. But the thing that really ties all these together is the writing. Good, solid, strong writing.

What makes writing good?

I’ve taken quite a few writing classes over the years. Inevitably, someone picks out a flowery sentence and reads it aloud as an example of amazingly good writing because it sounds so beautiful. But, does that make it good writing? In my opinion, no.

Beautiful sentences and turns of phrases work great in poetry or books in verse. But in a regular story? Nope. For me, it makes it sound like the author is trying too hard to impress the reader, and she comes across as pretentious. These sentences also do a disservice to the story because the reader is no longer absorbed in the story, she’s focusing on the words. The best writing is invisible, seamless, and never distracts from the characters or the story. It’s the stitching that binds the various pieces of the story together, and stitching is best when it’s not the focus of the whole work. Occasionally, some stitching is visible and adds to the overall beauty of the whole, but it’s never the focus, and it’s never what you notice first.

So, how do you write invisible and seamless sentences? That’s the topic for next week.


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