I’m sitting here musing on the last two books I’ve read. Well, one has been started but not finished. I take that back – two have been started… Ok, yes, I read oddly. I was sick and couldn’t sleep for the better part of Monday, Tuesday, into Wednesday. So I read. The problem is, when I am hurting I can’t focus as much on the story, so I need the writing to be good to make my reading easier. The first book I picked up, which has been on my nightstand stack to review, wasn’t easy. So I put it down, and retreated to a known quantity which was easy to lose myself in.
So what is it that makes some writing easy, and others hard? Some of it surely has to do with the skill of the author. The “easy” read was a collection of crime novels by Patricia Wentworth, Maud Silver stories, and I know part of it may have been that it’s a familiar setting for me. I have read and watched a lot of British crime stories over the years, so slipping into post-Wartime villages is as effortless as curling up under the cozy blankets.
The other book was set in a city, following a young woman going to law school. She’s interacting with a very rich, spoiled grandmother, and with professors who are unwontedly cruel. I’ve had difficult professors, but never anything like this story describes… and it threw me off, a bit. I wasn’t feeling good, and the protagonist was feeling miserable, so I put the book down. I will come back to it… and I think the story is solid. It’s just it was hard for me to read.
More, it’s about the style of writing. I’m still trying to put my finger on the pulse of what brought the Wentworth books to life, living and breathing, and what made the other book simply words on paper. It’s not that there were typos, or grammatical errors. While I will notice those (like in the second book I started and didn’t finish… but that was because my kindle app crashed) they will not throw me out of a story and at the speed I read, they are more like annoying gnats than speedbumps.
Sentence structure? Maybe. I know I notice that, subconciously. In the Wentworth books, it’s effortless. You don’t even notice it. In the second (drat it. Ok, one is a retold fairy tale, and the other is(of all things!) a post-apocalypse story. There. Handles!) the voice is a touch stilted in the beginning, but then smoothes out as the author finds his voice and begins to really tell the story. With the fairy tale, that hadn’t happened yet. Why? Well, I suspect some may come from over-editing. I know I get told occasionally that my Pixie Noir books are too casual. Um… they are that way on purpose. Style, the voice of the book (not of the author. I can and will change voices if I’m ever writing a book that requires a more technical, formal voice) needs to come through, and it needs to match the story. Victorian-era stylized grammar will ill-suit a modern guy trying to make it through the woods to his family after the Big One goes up.
And I am sure that some of the stilted writing comes from the author’s own uncertainties. We all seem to react the same way. There’s a story in our head, but what words do we use to put it on paper? Write, re-write, re-write… and what you have at the end is so sharp, it’s jagged to read. I know some authors swear by polishing, but for me, not so much. And I have found that some of my favorite authors didn’t. They simply wrote, came to an end, and moved on to the next one without too much looking back. Finding the ability to let loose the internal storyteller while holding that editor in abeyance might well be the way to create a story that is easy to read.
I’ll keep working on the fairytale. It has characters I think I can learn to like. So far… it’s been work. Hopefully, that will get better the further in I go. The post-apoc? Well, I normally avoid tales like this. It’s been done to death. But this one is unusually charming with the hero unlikely, reluctant, but emphatically a hero. I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes, once I have time to straighten out my app problem.
Here’s the collection of Patricia Wentworth I was reading. I was advised to skip the first novel, Marriage Under Terror, as it is from very early in her career and not particularly good (maybe I ought to try, to see how hard or easy it is!). They are nice cozies, but more importantly, easy to read when you need a comfort read.