fiction / writing

Stilted Writing

I’m reading a couple of novels written by new writers. I’m finding they share something that I have noticed before in debut efforts. I am trying to figure out how to express coherently what the impression they gave me was.

My First Reader suggests that perhaps it boils down to ‘spending to much time on grammar and not enough time on vernacular’ and that is certainly why the dialogue was almost painful to read in one of them. In the other, one of the main characters had a verbal tic that was making me nuts: he always spoke in ‘iggnerant hillbilly’ because he was the villain.

Leaving aside the motivations for the author in writing her bad guy with that particular shortcut, I found that this novel was very weak in that it wanted to tell me everything about the characters, their families, the history of some feud which might or might not have been between their families… I got confused and lost somewhere in there. Everything being thrown in but the kitchen sink (no, that was in there, too, as the female MC was cooking and canning) made it really hard to follow the plot threads.

I’ll discuss the other issue I had with that book when I review it. If I review it… still hung up on whether it’s better to just gently ignore a book than to give it a critical review. Is it kinder to an author to not mention problems, and just not buy them again as a reader? Most likely. I’m not trying to teach the world how to write, after all. Not even trying to teach you, O Reader most Beneficent. Just trying to figure out how to express my problems with some writing.

The other novel, a YA, had one major, sticky point that kept jumping out and grabbing me by the throat. It was message fiction. Never mind that it was conservative libertarian message fiction, it was still heavy-handed and difficult to read. At least this one had characters who I could empathize with, even if they seemed very alien. The alienness, and the stilted dialogue, actually worked for them, because they were children who had been reaised under horribly abusive conditions. But it’s not a book I’d recommend to anyone. It reminded me in many ways of Scott Westerfield’s Uglies, which I read along with my daughter. She loved it, I hated it, and the book I read last night shared some characteristics with it. Children separated from adults and left to fend on their own… But the writing.

Stilted, awkward, stiff… I don’t know why it feels that way, but it does. Perhaps because they are new writers, and haven’t yet found their voice. Or perhaps because they have polished and re-polished, losing the story in the search for the perfect phrasing. It makes me appreciate that much more the writers I have discovered over the years who draw you into the story, so the words disappear and the world they built becomes real to you the reader.

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6 thoughts on “Stilted Writing

  1. ” It makes me appreciate that much more the writers I have discovered over the years who draw you into the story, so the words disappear and the world they built becomes real to you the reader.”

    This is what I want in a story, too. I see way too much of the other kind of writing, and have wondered how on earth those authors even get published! I think it may be because so many people are poor readers that poor writing just seems normal to them?

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  2. likewise. It’s irritating, when you read, to hit road bumps and potholes. throws me off the entire story line and derails the thing. The story should flow, it should make sense in the context of the universe it’s set in, the willful suspension of disbelief should be a relief from daily reality and not forced. When I’ve finished the story, if I should find myself still there, still in that place, interacting with the characters and playing what if and what happens next, then the author has “done good”.

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  3. Ah! You too?? I read part of a book my brother’s friend’s sister (or maybe friend’s cousin’s sister…something like that…) had written. And it was that strange, stilted writing that’s so frustrating to read and so impossible to explain. The worst part was that my brother couldn’t understand my problem with it, or why I was mentally revising the bit that I read. I’m glad to know it’s a thing, and not me being an unintentional snob 😛

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    • it seems to be, after some lively behind-the-scenes discussion, a result of being a new writer and not yet confident with one’s voice, being a writer and not a reader, and a lot of telling-not-showing with the storytelling. I’m going to expand on this post, as it led to questions like “how do I fix it?”

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  4. As an aspiring author, even bad reviews help. Granted, editing and beta readers should catch those problems. So far, test readers have liked my YA story. I’ll contact you shortly about a cover for it.

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