Friday, May 09, 2014

LEADEN

I love a good story but I also love lyrical prose. Lyrical is the right word because prose has a sound to me. It’s not quite poetry but it has a musical element. In the hands of a master, it sings.

Consider: “See the child. He is pale and thin, he wears a thin and ragged linen shirt. He strokes the scullery fire. Outside lie dark turned fields with rags of snow and darker woods beyond that harbor yet a few last wolves. His folk are known for hewers of wood and drawers of water but in truth his father has been a schoolmaster. He lies in drink, he quotes from poets whose names are now lost. The boy crouches by the fire and watches him.” (Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian)

Or: “The battle in the meadowlands of the Euphrates was over, but not the slaughter. On that bloody field...the steel-clad bodies lay strewn like the drift of a storm. The great canal men called the Nile, which connected the Euphrates with the distant Tigris, was choked with the bodies of the tribesmen, and survivors were panting in flight toward the white walls of Hilla, which shimmered in the distance above the placid waters of the nearer river.” (Robert E. Howard, “The Lion of Tiberias”)

Very different language, and yet both are beautiful to me. I always strive to make my prose sound good as well as be functional, although it is not easy to achieve. I also believe the sound of the prose should match the content of the story. A horror tale will have different music to it than a fantasy. I believe fantasy in particular lends itself to beautiful prose, because fantasy generally requires much more description than horror fiction does.

So, I read a lot of fantasy, in hopes of getting a fix of both great story and beautiful writing. Then I come upon something like this:

“More important, if he could but grasp the language, what was the strange power this woman had? ‘You have strange powers,’ Zanthar said.”

And then: “The love-life?” Zanthar questioned. He did not understand the term. In fact, he was not at all certain that he understood a tenth of the words she used. “I do not understand.” 

Repetition ad nauseam seems to be this author’s stock in trade. The repetition of “strange power(s)” and of “understood” are just killers here to any music these phrases may have had. Not to mention the far from pithy dialogue, which simply restates exactly what the writer has just told the reader in narrative. This is the very illustration of “leaden” prose.

One guess who this author is.  If you read my last post, it’s the same guy. Robert Moore Williams. I was gonna give up on this book but have decided to continue on. I think I can milk a few more blog posts out of it. I can only hope no one will ever find my own writing so worthy of this type of exploration. I’d much rather be compared with McCarthy and Howard.
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21 comments:

Tom Doolan said...

As one who has a read a decent portion of your work, I can safely say you have no worries there. :)

Ron Scheer said...

I find repetition a problem with my own writing. Revising a draft, I'm always surprised I did not notice it the first time around.

Randy Johnson said...

A writer whose prose I always considered elegant(lyrical) is John Dunning's work on his Bookman series(at least all but the last couple). Something about it attracted me like no other author, including some favorites,

Cloudia said...

Yes, over use is a killer. I pruned several from my book...
Every book/story has a climate. words alone form that climate. Miracle!





ALOHA from Honolulu
ComfortSpiral

pattinase (abbott) said...

Not pretty, no. It may be a question of the authorial voice intruding on the prose.

Bernard Lee DeLeo said...

Having read your Talera series, you will never be accused of leaden prose, my friend. :)

Riot Kitty said...

McCarthy...Cormac? Howard...?

I'm with Tom. You have nothing to worry about. If you did, I wouldn't be reading.

Unknown said...
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Charles Gramlich said...

Tom, thanks much, man!

Ron, it creeps in easily. I see it in my own first drafts too. It's the ease with which a word just used comes to mind when the next time you need a similar word. It pops in there because it's been freshly in your short term memory.

Randy, that's high praise. I'm going to have to look for Dunning's work. I don't believe I've read any. Any particular book recommendation?

Cloudia, I like that way of thinking about it.

Patti, I suspect a lot of it is undue haste and probably just some laziness.

Bernard, thanks. I appreciate that. I do work hard on it.

Riot Kitty, yes, Cormac McCarthy and Robert E. Howard. And thankee!

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Charles, I have often found sf and fantasy difficult to read mainly on account of the use of language and descriptions. I have had to reread sentences and passages to understand them better. No fault of the authors, of course.

Randy Johnson said...

BOOKED TO DIE or THE BOOKMAN'S WAKE, the first two in the series would be a good place.

the walking man said...

Charles you are a Celtic warrior at heart.

Charles Gramlich said...

Prashant, Fantasy can be hard to get into because it often calls for a very different kind of vocabulary. SF can co that too.

Randy, thanks. I'm gonna see if I can find a copy on book mooch.

Mark, thank you. I consider that a great compliment!

Oscar said...

Stick with it, you may find some hidden gems among the overload.

Brian Miller said...

sometimes i wonder if a writer is really into it when they can not find fresh words to describe and put us in the moment....there is an art to writing lyrical prose...i love to read it...and sometimes i miss it...smiles.

laughingwolf said...

agreed :)

should that read: the "white walls", instead of "while walls"?

David J. West said...

Good ones to work toward. I'd like nothing more than to rub shoulders with the lyric Kings.

Erik Donald France said...

Hear hear, Charles ~!

'Rage — Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles, murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses, hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls, great fighters’ souls, but made their bodies carrion,
feasts for the dogs and birds. . .' (Robt. Fagles trans. Iliad opener)

Charles Gramlich said...

David J., Amen brother.

Erik, some of my favorite poetic reading is Fitzgerald's translation of the Odyssey. The sun rises over the flawless brimming sea, into a sky all brazen, for goes immortal and for mortal man, on plowlands kind with grain.

Charles Gramlich said...

Oscar, so far so bad. :)

Brian, he definitely seems to be phoning it in.

Charles Gramlich said...

Laughinwolf, indeed. I'm finding it harder and harder to read the small print.