I love poetical language in prose. My favorite books not only tell a decent story, but they tell it in heightened prose, either sheer and lovely or powerful and evocative. There is a music to the best prose.
“The old man has been ravened from within. That blind and greedy stare of his, that caved-in look, and the mouth working, reveal who now inhabits him, who now stares out. I nod to Death in passing, aware of the sound of my own feet upon my path. The ancient is lost in a shadow world, and gives no sign.” (Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard)
Most of the time when I write, I strive for the same thing. I not only want to tell the story, I want the prose to sing as the tale goes along. However, I just finished a story where I made no particular effort to get the prose to sing. There’s relatively little description. I minimized metaphors and similes. There’s a lot of dialogue. And I found out something:
Constructing poetical prose takes an immense amount of time and work. At least for me. On the days when I worked on this latest story, the word count expanded dramatically above my usual average. And the writing was just…easier. It made me think of another writer whose work I have greatly admired:
Ray Bradbury was a big influence on my writing, particularly, I think, on my desire to write poetically. Bradbury’s early stuff is just so incredibly beautiful that I am often left in awe. Some of the stuff he wrote in much later years doesn’t have the same zing and zest to me. I wonder if he noticed too that it takes a lot of effort to create poetry in prose. Did he finally get tired of the effort? Or did he just decide that a change in tone was due?
I don’t think my discovery is going to revolutionize my own writing. At least not yet. But I will be paying close attention to how this current story gets received by readers. Do readers really care about beautiful prose? Do some of them actually find it distracting? I know story is king, but shouldn’t the king be adorned? Or is it better for the king to have no clothes?
What say you?