One of the benchmarks for judging the success of a creative writer is a unique style, or as it is referred to among aficionados of the novel, having a unique “voice.” But do we always “listen?”
We are all taught, as a part of growing up, to listen, to pay attention when someone is speaking. Is that piece of practical advice applicable to books when reading?
This question came to mind after The Old Cobbler finished one book and turned to another one, written in a totally different style, or “voice.” I had been playing catch-up on C. J. Box’s series featuring Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett. WINTERKILL was my third Joe Pickett read in a row.
Anyone who is familiar with this series knows that Box tells the story in a “voice” that does not allow much time to breath. One gulps down the story a page at a time, like eating a bowl of chuck wagon stew and hot biscuits after a long hard day.
After these three quick reads, I turned to Louise Penny’s A RULE AGAINST MURDER. If Box’s “voice” is stew to be gobbled down, Penny’s “voice’ is an entrée that must be eaten slowly.
Her stories are so laden with layered flavoring that a hasty approach will miss much of the story. This I learned from her first three novels. But it was a lesson I did not remember until I was some twenty pages into A RULE AGAINST MURDER and found myself not following the story.
The “listening” portion of my brain was still set on warp speed from following Box’s “voice” as he took Joe Pickett through the final scenes of WINTERKILL, set in the midst of a Wyoming winter.
I took a break, reminded my brain that I was “hearing” a vastly different “voice,” that I needed to slow down and pay closer attention. Going back to page one and doing that produced a quantum leap in my understanding of what was going on.
This experience made me again aware that some writers, like Louise Penny and Jane Haddam have a “voice” that demands a disciplined approach, demands full attention to every word if significant facts of the story are not to be missed.
This also made me start thinking about the words readers use when describing their experiences with a book. Such descriptions as “zipped,” “sped,” “rushed,” read hastily,” and “flew threw” seem to appear more often than their antonyms.
It is not that I would expect readers to say they read a book slowly. Right after being told we should listen came the admonition that being a slow reader was not a good thing. So who would admit it in today’s society if their fate were to be a slow reader?
All of which leads me to a second thought. A traditional published book goes through a process that puts more emphasis on events and roles being clearly spelled out than an edit to check the correctness of every colon, comma, and semi-colon.
Yet I never ceased to be amazed at the number of comments from readers who say after having read a book that they didn’t understand what happened, or what role a character played in the story.
All of which leads to this question. While we insist that authors develop a “voice,” do we sometimes not “listen,” take enough time to read and understand what that “voice” is saying?
WELCOME TO THE VIRTUAL HOME OF BRONSON L. PARKER. A native of Tennessee, "Bo" is a former journalist and writer of historical non-fiction. His creative writing career began after retirement from his day job as an appointed public servant in his adopted town of Hampton, VA. "It isn't a gipe site," he says. "If I enjoy something I read, or learn something about the writing game that I think is worthwhile, I'll have a few comments to make. His goal is to make it a fun site, both to write and, hopfully, to read.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
The idea that the Internet being a window through which one could relive a half-century old experience never occurred to The Old Cobbler until I discovered two photographs recently. The first one was among hundreds of family snapshots in an old box that had not been opened in many years.
It took a moment to remember that it was a photograph from the first out-of-town trip I took with my parents when we did not spend the night at the home of a relative. We went to what is now called the Cumberland Falls State Resort Park.
Today, the resort is a short, hour and a half drive along Interstate 75 north from Knoxville, Tennessee. But the trip we took back in the early 1950s, as I remember it, was a drive along curvy and hilly two-lane roads that took most of the day.
We stayed at the Dupont Lodge, a rustic structure built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps,the group that developed the entire area around a waterfall on the Cumberland River. The river, 125-feet wide, plunges sixty feet into a rocky gorge.
Called the “Niagara of the South,” the falls are the site of a phenomenon that exists nowhere else in the Western Hemisphere. On a clear night with a full moon, a moon bow can be seen in the mist of the falling water.
It’s not the moon bow I remember, but a long forgotten event,dredged from memory by the photograph below.
It’s the dining room at the Dupont Lodge, an older photograph, showing the room very much as I remember it from over a half century ago.
The first night we stayed at the lodge, it was announced that after the dinner period ended, a square dance would be held in the dinning room. I had heard of such, but never seen one, and wanted to watch.
My parents told me I could stay until the dance was over, but they were going back to their room. The rooms at the lodge were small, had only one bed, and I was staying by myself next door to my parents.
When the tables were cleared, everyone began to move the tables and chairs back against the walls, clearing the floor. I was a kid in a room full of strangers, didn’t know what was going to happen, and I remember feeling very uncomfortable as I stood in a corner and watched what was going on.
The man I later learned was the “caller,” the one who told the dancers what to do, said he wanted everybody to join in, if anyone saw folks who weren’t with the group, then grab them and get them out on the floor.
I don’t remember who did the grabbing, but I ended up with a large group of people in a circle out on the floor. The caller said it wasn’t that hard, that all we had to do was listen to him and watch the other folks. As it turned out, I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know how to square dance.
The details during the rest of the evening are beyond recall, except that it was a lot of fun. Everybody seemed to laugh and joke about making mistakes, having as much fun doing that as doing things correctly.
I grew up to have a working career that quite often put me in front of groups of people I didn’t know. I never felt self-consciousness. And I didn’t worry about making a mistake. I knew the strangers would laugh with me, not at me.
No thought had ever been given to how things worked out until I found those two photographs. In retrospect, I suspect that a big part of that self-confidence came from that one night in the life of a young country boy who learned as much about people he did not know as he did about square dancing.