it's a great life, if you don't weaken (matociquala) wrote,
it's a great life, if you don't weaken
matociquala

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In defense of transparent prose:

SeeLight takes exception to what seems to me to be a profound misreading of an old post of mine.

(I didn't mention this in her comments, because I was about to run long and decided to come back here to froth, but I also don't see the part where I said that one should kick leaves over one's weaknesses and carry on, as she implies, and I can't imagine anybody who's been reading this blog for any length of time would imagine I would ever say such a thing. I have said, and will say again, that it's strengths that sell a book and not a lack of weaknesses, but that is entirely different from saying that weaknesses don't matter.(1))

What I intended to say, back in the dim mists of July, is that writing genre is no excuse for writing like crap. That is the thesis statement of that entire post.

Moving back to her comments, however, I disagree profoundly with this statement:

Which means, of course, that transparent prose is the best and the most difficult and the rarest of writing styles, 'cause, frankly, you almost never see it. It's really, really difficult to write without particularity of voice because everyone writes with particularity of voice.

karen_traviss and I both used to be journalists. I believe scalzi did a stint in the word mines too? And nihilistic_kid, of course, still does.

The first thing they trained out of me was any relict of style or personality, and any use of words of 6th grade comprehension level or higher. And I can still do it, too. It's not that much harder to write good transparent prose than good any other kind of prose. And one man's transparent, by the way, is another man's obnoxiously intrusive narrative voice.

(It's also easy to do badly, but then, so it purple prose. N.B. "beautiful" also does not necessarily mean "poetic." (Nor should "poetic" necessarily mean "purple.") Word meanings here are generally chosen with care. As Richard Brautigan once said, "God-forsaken is beautiful, too.")

Anyway, transparent prose--good, muscular, vivid transparent prose, not the clunky crap that often passes for it--is a perfectly valid choice. It's just not always the best way to write fiction.

I also take exception to the idea that prose should "bury itself" for the story. Heck, I take exception to shoulds in terms of writing in general: my attitude is that there are techniques that work and techniques that don't.

But if I were to resort to a should, it would be this: Prose should always be in service of the story.

Part of that process is narrative energy; it is the words that give the story life. They evoke atmosphere and portray character, among all their other tasks. The voice should evoke a sense of the story.



(1)Grr. two ways to get up my nose: treat me like I'm dumb, or misrepresent something I said so that I sound completely fucking stupid.
Tags: blood and rhetoric, i will not start a flamewar, screeds & manifestos, the sound of one faucet dripping, there will always be assholes
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