Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Language Matters

Last post, I talked about my sentence-level revision tricks. Some pretty famous writers think that you actually ruin a story by working this way, that you remove your natural voice and boring up your story.


I guess I could see a self-conscious writer doing this, but if you're a vet with a few hundred thousand words under your belt and if you believe in your own ability, then this isn't a problem. If this is the case, then you take lazy, place-holding phrasing you used because a scene was gushing out of your fingertips and you make it MORE interesting.

Besides, I consciously remove my own voice from a lot of my work because I don't want to have a consistent voice across every piece. I want my characters to have voices. But that's my aesthetic.

The point is, molding your language matters. Yes, story matters, too. But what is a story made of?


If you want to tell a story without worrying about language, look into filmmaking, where it's at least possible. If you're going to write fiction, then you can't get around using words grouped into sentences, any of which can yank the reader from the story.

So as long as you're not focusing on language to the exclusion of story, you're only going to make your story better by trying to improve the way you use language.


  1. "But what is a story made of? Words."

    Precisely. I want my carpenter to understand wood; I want my chef to understand ingredients; I want my writers to understand words.

  2. Well said, Alan.

    I recently read a short story in one of the Big 3, written by a Name Author who is also one of the more vocal proponents of writing-as-a-business. The story was very readable, but you know what? It was also clearly a first draft. A first draft by someone competent and experienced, but a first draft nonetheless. It had all those paragraphs you write in your first draft to explain to yourself how the world of your story works and what the character's backgrounds are and so on. I got tired of reading them, especially when they belabored a point.

    Of course, the author's goal is to make a living with her writing, and she does. But this story got bought based on her name; if it had been in slush, it would have been a "no, thanks" because it was a first draft.

  3. That's a great point, Grayson. Subtlety tends to appear after revision because the scaffolding gets removed.