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working writer wending her way through the labyrinth that is self-publishing

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Beware the Jabberwocky

"'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
and the mome raths outgrabe."

Genius or insanity? I would go for the former myself. It is a stroke of genius to use made up words to convey a scene so vividly. Did Lewis Carroll's editor say, "You can't use those words--they're not in Websters!"?

 I use this as an example for the point I wish to discuss.  How much criticism is enough and at what point is it too much? Our writing comes from within us--it is hopefully not like anyone else's and that's why the idea of telling an agent, "I write in the style of       ", I find so loathsome. And many agents suggest that a writer do just that when submitting a query. I guess it makes it easier for the agent, but otherwise, what is the point?  Styles come and go, for instance the 'no tags' and 'active voice'.  I understand and agree with the 'show don't tell' idea. But I have also become lost in lengthy dialogue without a tag once and a while. In her book, "Alias Grace", Atwood tags every line and yet somehow the entire dialogue becomes a seamless sort of stream of consciousness. If you have not read this book, I highly recommend it.

Possibly because of our sped up society with tweeting, three second sound bites, Facebook and e-mail etc...the attention span of the average reader has diminished somewhat and a lot of lengthy description can stop a reader as well as be boring. When I look at some of the books I've read, Dickens, for instance, I don't know if I would have the patience anymore. Maybe. I picked up "Huckleberry Finn" the other evening to read to my grandchildren and even I couldn't stand it. And when I read to them from, "Through the Looking Glass" they were asleep in ten minutes! I guess the lengthy sentences, archaic use of language had a lulling effect. Good to know for future reference.

 Yes, listen to the criticism, yes, edit, edit, edit, and then edit some more but make sure at the end of it the book still belongs to YOU. These days you don't have to force yourself into a box. There are many options open to good writing other than the traditional.

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