megwrites: Shakespeared! Don't be afraid to talk Elizabethan, or Kimberlian, or Meredithian! (shakespeared!)
[personal profile] megwrites
Don't worry, I still do that writing thing, too.

I've been thinking a lot about prose-level mechanics and how they affect whether a story comes across vividly to a reader.

For instance, you can describe a scene in which a character gets her keys, opens a door and walks through it - but you can show that in several different ways.

Finding her keys after searching her purse for them them, she unlocked the door and went through.


She fumbled for her keys and found them in her purse. She unlocked the door and went through it.


She went through the door after searching for her keys in her purse to unlock it.

Each sentence describes the same sequence of events, but they're different. They feel different to me. They feel like they have a different sense of speed and rhythym and timing, as though some are closer to the present than others even though they're all, technically, in past tense.

The first sentence feels like we're sort of rewinding and getting a quick "last time on..." sort of summary, the second one feels like it is happening right this second, and the third feels in between the other two as far as timing, but it doesn't feel as immediate.

That's what I'm trying to get at. In my own work, I find that there is a need to balance immediacy with summary. One thing I get frustrated with while reading is when a writer describes every little action in the immediate, especially if it's in first person narration.

Because to me, first person narration should feel as if you sat the character down in a room with a tape recorder and asked them to tell you a really great story. But when people tell stories in that fashion, they leave out a lot of the little stuff.

For instance, "I went through the door and then stepped into the room. I took off my coat and turned around and put it on the coat rack that was by the door. Then I turned around again and walked across the room and sat in a chair." Because I think in a more natural sense that would read as, "I came in, shucked my coat off, and plopped down in a chair."

So sometimes you need that summary feeling prose.

Other times you need that very immediate prose. Because saying "so we kicked and hit and then I won the fight" isn't as vivid as describing the pain of getting kicked in the teeth or trading blows.

So lately I've been wondering about how writers find that balance, and if it's something that other people notice. Because the more I read, the more I notice that the same plots, hell, the same stories can be told in different ways on a prose-level and it will definitely affect my enjoyment.

I'm also wondering if the differences between closely related genres comes down to things as simple as prose. I saw a documentary on IFC about sex in the movies and there was a director who said, "The difference between a movie with sex in it and pornography is lighting and production values."

And that struck me as being a very wise statement, and one a writer can apply to their work.

I often wonder if the difference between books being put in one category or another comes down not to the plot or the settings or the characters - but the prose. I think of Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveller's Wife. On it's face, it's SF/F, but it has been regarded and treated in a very literary manner. And I wonder if it really does come down to the fact that it reads like a literary genre novel not an SF/F novel.

I also wonder if when people speak of a novel being a "difficult" or "easy" read, are they really talking about a difficult plot or are they speaking about prose that confuses or bores or moves the story around like a car with bad shocks? Is the difference between a book that people breeze through and a book that stumps them just in the way sentences are constructed?

I'm interested to hear what people have to say about this. What do they think some of the prose-level characteristics of genres are, if they think it really is just the difference in lighting and production values that separates one genre from another.
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