Saturday, 17 December 2011

Meet the author, whether you like it or not

'Whenever you read a good book, it's like the author is right there, in the room, talking to you, which is why I don't like to read good books.'

That's funny (it's Jack Handey – of course it's funny), but as usual, there's an element of truth . . .

All kinds of prescriptions, proscriptions and rules of thumb are found in how-to guides for writers of fiction – show, don't tell; active, not passive; don't intrude; use fewer adjectives; use fewer adverbs; use fewer words – but for me, the one about not intruding is the most important, and probably the hardest to observe.

'One by one, the helicopters drifted down at a shallow angle, like sycamore seeds in autumn, and headed for the flight deck . . .'

If I were to come across this (made up) passage, my mind's eye would not be seeing helicopters descending from the sky like sycamore seeds; it would be seeing an author gazing out the window and thinking, 'What do helicopters look like when they descend from the sky? Sycamore seeds?' It doesn't really matter how skillful the writing is in other areas, or how gripping the plot – after I've glimpsed the author tap-tapping on his or her laptop, I sometimes find it hard to get them out of my mind.
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