When you see “Flashback” in front of an article, it means it is an article that originally appeared on Word Museum in the beginning before it was sold and then regained by Lori. We have reposted these articles, because we feel they add great value to the site. Where possible we include the date of the original article. Please note that many links may not work. We have tried to catch the ones we can where applicable.
by: Amy Campbell
Just the Facts Fiction by Amy Campbell When I decided to try writing fiction, whether I was good enough to ever see my name in print wasn’t my prime concern. Trained as a journalist, my worry was that the “just the facts” style that had been my bread-and-butter wouldn’t translate well to the world of lush description and 100,000-word manuscripts. I’d always prided myself on my tight writing. Could I loosen up?
I soon discovered that padding my perfectly good sentences with adverbs and loading my scenes with furtive glances was not only agonizing to write, it resulted in material I’d have no patience for as a reader. And it was as a reader that I discovered how many authors, both aspiring and published, could benefit from the discipline of news writing.
Solid (which is not to say popular) mechanics, effective word choice and accuracy are all worthy writing attributes, stressed in basic journalism classes, that sometimes get short-shrift in genre fiction. We know we like the sound of certain words, particular combinations, but sometimes use them at the expense of clean writing. Consider the author who described his picturesque valley “between two mountains” – which is, after all, the definition of a valley. In his eagerness to set the scene, the author failed to see the redundancy of the phrase. Another author, in a western romance rife with over-writing, described her heroine’s eagerness for dinner with the sentence, “Her stomach growled, telling her she was hungry.” The redundancy – and outright silliness – of the line ruined the flow of an otherwise very readable passage.
Certainly, the functions of fiction and journalism are different, and novels devoid of palpable settings, clear motivation and three-dimensional characters will not sell. But, as veteran newspaper editors will tell you, one perfectly chosen word is more effective than three average ones; one clear, active verb worth ten adverbs describing the activity. As a reader, I want a distinct picture of the characters, their setting and time period, without suffering through two pages of dialogue-free minutia clearly intended to increase word count. Get me to the action!
Writers have a responsibility to use the language we love not just prolifically, but accurately and with respect for its intricacies. When we discipline ourselves to eschew wasted words, to create crisp, evocative phrases in place of the tried-and-true, our fiction rises to a new level. It’s a tall order, but one that will make our readers hungry for more.
Amy Campbell Director of Publications Adrian College