Monday, April 13, 2009

Language Killed the Story

When it comes to fiction I'm generally a cup-half-full kind of gal. Even when a story might not be right up my alley I'm usually able to find a measure of enjoyment in it and appreciate that it is probably right up someone else's. (Why does that sound vulgar?) I usually find something to applaud no matter what the content or style and very rarely have a beef with the author's choices. Even if it's not my favorite, I can concede that it might be someone else's.

I recently finished reading Prospero's Children by Jan Siegel. I found the story to be fascinating and I was very impressed with her grasp of language.

Until that grasp became so strong it was like a choke hold. My beef with this book was that Seigel clearly has the ability to write an enthralling book, but used so much muscle in the vocab department that it tipped the scale from impressive to irritating. The language and sentence composition became so ornate that I found myself wallowing through the text instead of gliding though it. Her lovely story was overshadowed by the flower in her words. Seigel is plainly talented and without doubt highly intelligent.

But, in some cases, just because you can doesn't mean you should.


Wordtryst - Liane Spicer said...

Ahh! I agree - the language shouldn't get in the way of the story. I have no quarrel with great craftsmanship but it must be fairly unobtrusive or it seems like the writer is just showing off, which makes me want to say: Okay, I'm impressed, but can you just tell the story please?

Hoodie said...

The thing that was so frustrating about this story in particular was that she clearly had the skill to nail it, but she ended up with overkill.

Anonymous said...

So true. I always go for story over flowery prose. Maybe that's because I can't do flowery prose myself? Or maybe that's the other way around? Or maybe I just ask too many questions? :)

K.Lawson Gilbert said...

Oh, bravo, Hoodie! Great commentary.

When I was in a writer's group, there was a retired English teacher. He wrote fiction. Everything he wrote was so over the top in the verbiage department!!

His arguement was that he used big words so people could learn. i.e. - if they didn't know the word, they would look it up and learn new words!!!!

Excuse me, I want to be entertained here - not educated. Does this box of bon bons look like a dictionary?

Hoodie said...

I used to do a daily vocab word on this blog and was thinking of bringing it back.

I guess I can thank Seigel for building up my list.

K.Lawson Gilbert said...

Now that would be a good thing to do. I like things like that! After all, we could all use a vocab boost - in the right place!

SzélsőFa said...

I totally see how an overly thriving language can kill the story itself...unless there's no story and the aim is to let the author's vocabulary outshine every readers' imagination....but should this really be a point in writing ???
I don't think so.

Hoodie said...

Szelsofa - I think many writers do think that's the point in writing.

And if that's your thing, go for poetry, not prose, I say.

Vesper said...

A very insightful post, Hoodie. A balance should be sought though, I think, because story alone is not enough.