Just Say It

A woman walked into the library (No, this isn't a set up for a joke. I can't tell a joke to save my life.) and handed me a book.

"Returning," she said.

"Did you enjoy it?" I asked.

"I couldn't get through it. Too many adjectives."

This woman frequents our library often. She's an avid reader. Mostly she goes for the bestselling suspense/thriller authors. Patterson. Woods. Parker. The author of the book with too many adjectives was a big name, too. Though I haven't read him, I was intrigued.

"Lengthy descriptive passages?" I asked. I admit. I tend to skim those myself.

"Too much description period. Too many adjectives. I have an imagination. Don't talk it to death, just say it."

Huh. Since I read Stuart Woods and Robert B. Parker, two of her favorites (and mine), I knew exactly what she meant. Or rather her preferred style--sparse, direct. My personal writing style is not as sparse and direct as either of the authors mentioned above, but I do lean in that direction. It's what comes naturally. Part of my voice. I usually don't give it much thought. Although every once in awhile . . .

I'm currently reading Linda Lael Miller's latest release, a historical western--The Man from Stone Creek. I'm a longtime fan of Miller's. I particularly enjoy her westerns. She is what I call a word smith. I'm sure the library patron of this post would declare the novel overkill on the adjective front. Not me. I admire the way Miller roots me in the period without boring me info-dump. Her writing is direct yet poetic. The perfect balance for this reader.

As a writer, however, though inspired, I suffered an attack of self-doubt. I emailed Cyndi (my friend, CP, and a poetic word smith herself) and lamented, "Compared to LLM, my writing is so simple."

Now, I know better than to compare myself to anyone, but I was in a mood.

Cyndi responded, "I don't think your style is simple. I think it's straightforward. You like tight; you like dialogue and movement."

Straightforward. I like that. Much better than simple. The library patron with the too many adjectives gripe would probably like my style. Readers who like sparse and direct would like my style. Of course, there are historical readers who abhor what they refer to as costume dramas. They would probably find my writing lacking, specifically in adjectives.

Luckily for readers, whose tastes vary, there are all kinds of writers. Writers who just say it and writers who say it with more color.

Luckily for writers, there are all kinds of readers. Next time that library patron hands me a book, I'm going to hand her one of my bookmarks.


Gabriele C. said…
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Gabriele C. said…
Argh, I should proofead before I hit the Send key.

I actually like both sparse and lush as long as it's done well. Jacqueline Carey's prose just flows though I think there are a lot of adjectives - I don't notice them when they fit. Terry Goodkind on the other hand .... well, he sells, but not to me. ;)

On the other hand, I also like those Icelandic writers who don't even know what an adjective is and who indeed tell a story 'straightforwardly'. Don't know the ones you mention; maybe I should check them out, but I'm not much into bestselling thrillers.

My own style is in between and I'm still striving to find the perfect balance. My older writings tend to have more adjectives, and some of these have to go in the rewrite. But historical fiction does well with some description or you won't root the reader in the time.
Beth Ciotta said…
LUSH. That's the perfect word, Gabriele. Thanks. I would say I'm much like you in that I was more heavy-handed with adjectives (and adverbs) in earlier works. Later works are much tighter. Also, as I gain confidence as a writer, I notice that I don't feel the need to over explain or describe.

Pet peeve of mine, especially in movies. Notice how a primary character, most often the bad guy, has a scene near the end where they talk you to death, explaining in detail why they did what they did... or whatever. Sometimes I think it makes for a stronger story if you leave something to the reader/viewer's imagination.
Gabriele C. said…
Yeah, I hate those scenes, too. Since I write omniscient, my bad guys get stage time all through the book, so I don't need the Have the hero tied to a pole, explain everything to him, until someone sneaks in, unties the hero, and he throws a poisoned shuriken he had hidden in his sleeve, at the bad guy-scenes.
chryscat said…
From another straightforward gal, I know exactly what you mean.
I'm no Rebecca Brandewyne. And I say that without rancor. It's not who I am. It's not how I write.
To each his/her own.
I'll just keep telling it like it is.

As far as the "bad guy" monologue...*snickering*...I love that. Remember that scene in The Incredibles where they reference it? Cracks me up EVERY TIME!
Tori Lennox said…
Your patron would love my current writing. It has almost no description whatsoever. *g*
Charlene Teglia said…
Straightforward is a good style! Nothing wrong with simplicity, either. *g*
Jennifer Elbaum said…
I'd definitely agree that your style is straightforward Beth, but definitely not simple. Have faith in yourself and your abilities.

Now you've got me yearning for an old Patterson or McBain book....
Beth Ciotta said…
Enjoyed hearing everyone's take on this. Whether you write lush or straight-forward or somewhere in between, I think Jen has the right idea. It's vital to: "Have faith in yourself and your abilities."

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