Tag Archives: audience

Complexity: Simplicity in Reading and Writing. #amreading #badbooks

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We all read for different reasons and some of us like variety in our reading. There are times when I want deep and meaningful prose that is intellectually stimulating and there are times when I want a fast, fun little story. I feel the reviews I write might also reflect what I was looking for when I sat down to read and whether or not my expectations were met.

I was looking on my iPad at the books I had to put down. A few of them I went back to many times trying to absorb the words and get into the story. I discovered something about these books that I felt I should share with you. I don’t know if you are reading or writing, but you are either the audience or you are trying to reach an audience.

Complexity:

I’m not going to touch the YA audience with this post. Writing for children, pre-teens, teens, young adults, new adults all carry a host of intricacies that I can’t touch on.

I feel that I am a reasonably intelligent adult, maybe above average in some areas (I can recite the Krebs cycle and tell you all about adenosine tri-phosphate, and Acid-Base balance is an easy topic for me).

The majority of times that I had to put a book down and not go back to it has to do with its complexity in word choice.

Here is a list of words from one such book (I stopped at about 25%.) This is supposed to be a contemporary fiction but so many words are archaic. I think the author was striving for artistically archaic, but having to stop and look up every third word made for terrible reading. These words were all used in the first three chapters.

Ignominious

Abjured

Orison

Sepulture

Quixotic

Abrogate

Fallacious

Obstreperous

Expiate

Execrable

Hegemony

Nascent

Peregrinate

Troth

Varlet

Poltroon

Malapert

Truculent…okay, I’m going to stop now. I think I made my point, but the list goes on and on.

The story, at least what I could make out about it, after pausing to look up the words, was very interesting. But really, the effort required???

 

I like to be intellectually stimulated, and some of these words I knew…just not in the context that they were used in the story. I like to learn new things. But this was NOT entertaining in the least. It was a bothersome chore.

 

In other words, I felt more common words could have told the story better. The complexity of this “contemporary” western fiction required far more brain energy than I was willing to spend.

 

Writers, don’t make it unnecessarily difficult for us! The fact that you can use a thesaurus or know well the meanings of these words does not impress me. Tell me your beautiful story in words that paint me pictures. Don’t pull me out of the flow of you story to look up and contemplate the meaning of your words.

 

Simplicity:

 

On the flip side, the other books I set down and did not go back to were not overwritten, but underwritten. More often than not, they were dialogue with not much narrative prose. This is tricky when telling a story and is frequently why people complain about “show” and “tell”.

 

In trying to cut out exposition and back story, I think we sometimes go overboard and that leaves a very simple skeleton of a story with no substance.

 

I am going to admit some guilt here. With Alliances, I feel that some of the rationale for me being dissatisfied with it has to do with lack of narrative prose. I cut so much of the exposition. Character development is critical, and without some history, descriptions of behavior, setting the stage, a hint of some thought processes, a life before your event and the like, we aren’t going to get to know the characters very well or bond with them and the read is going to seem critically superficial.

 

Reaching your audience requires more than a plot. You can have the most beautiful, fascinating setting in the world, the best thought through plot ever designed, but if you complicate with your choice of words, or leave me wondering who, what, when, why and how…I’m going to put the book down.

These are just a couple of reasons I stopped reading. The two that jumped out at me. There were other reasons, but I won’t go into those now.

What makes you put down a book and never go back?

Have complexity or simplicity stopped you from finishing a story?

Have you ever returned a book after a few pages?

I’m looking for balance.

Writing Styles: One or Many?

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For most of the last century, America’s cultural landscape—its fashion, art, music, design, entertainment—changed dramatically every 20 years or so. But these days, even as technological and scientific leaps have continued to revolutionize life, popular style has been stuck on repeat, consuming the past instead of creating the new. Like clothing fashion, books seem to have developed their own anticipated styles. I guess you could drop that 2012 guy’s pants below his shorts and put a hoodie and some sunglasses on him. (If you would call that current acceptable style.)

You often hear comments made about a writer’s style. Reviewers remark on disliking or liking an author’s style. I can read a book and say whether I liked the writing style, or not.

Writing style refers to the manner in which an author chooses to write to his or her audience. A style reveals both the writer’s personality and voice, but it also shows how she or he perceives the audience. The choice of a conceptual writing style molds the overall character of the work. This occurs through changes in syntactical structure, parsing prose, adding diction, and organizing figures of thought into usable frameworks.

A WRITER’S STYLE IS WHAT SETS HIS OR HER WRITING APART and makes it unique. Style is the way writing is dressed up (or down) to fit the specific context, purpose, or audience. Word choice, sentence fluency, and the writer’s voice — all contribute to the style of a piece of writing. How a writer chooses words and structures sentences to achieve a certain effect is also an element of style.

Style is not a matter of right and wrong but of what is appropriate for a particular setting and audience.

To read these descriptions of writing style, especially concerning personality and voice, one would think that style is almost innate. That it cannot change. But note what they say about choice.

For several weeks I was awash in stream of consciousness producing sentences of internal monologue, detailed description, and using associations to move from idea to idea.

Recently, I felt that my writing was getting serious and emotional. I needed a break from it.

I picked up my crime novel that I had placed on the back burner and read through it. That prompted a flurry of new ideas and I put down over 2000 words in one day.

The writing style is completely different from my historical story. Totally.

The sentences are shorter, there is humor, and things (especially clues) are plainly stated and described.  It is rational and scientific; there is no literary dallying with side-issues, no subtly worked-out character analyses, no “atmospheric” preoccupations.  There is no method to hold up the action and introduce issues irrelevant to the main purpose, which is to state a problem, analyze it, and bring it to a successful conclusion. I am having fun with it.

Having only written one book in recent years, I went back over some old manuscripts. The writing styles were clearly different.

My published book is a historical novel. There was much setting the time period, and description, character development and some internal dialog.

With all of the talk about building an author platform, I have seriously considered starting a new blog that focuses on crime novel writing or a specific image to that effect. Experts say that you need at least ten published books and preferably a series if you want to make your mark as a genre writer. What do you think?

I can’t say that I am a historical writer, fantasy writer, romance writer, crime fiction writer or any such thing as a defined writer of fiction. I am exploring.

Do you have a style? Could you deviate from it and feel comfortable or have you found your comfort zone? Is it innate talent for you, or do you feel it is a learned skill? Do you feel a genre specific platform is necessary?

Surviving Sister: A Melody of Madness

This is a tattered photograph that I have carried around for 43 years since the age of ten. It was retrieved from a scrapbook that my grandma had in an old trunk that held my mother’s personal effects after she died in 1969. The scrapbooks were filled with the sorts of things teenaged girls and young women collect, postcards from places visited, movie and theater tickets, coupons for dancing lessons, pressed corsages, letters exchanged between friends and lovers. On the back it is signed, “Love, Carol.” I don’t know who the intended recipient was supposed to be, but it became the only tangible image of her that I possessed for thirty years.

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My aunt, my mother’s only sister, had a few photographs. They were mostly small pictures taken in their childhood years and there were only a couple that my aunt had of her sister as an adult. There were other pictures, but they were given to my older sister for safe keeping and we became estranged over the years of separation that followed Mama’s death.

In 1997, after coming to Florida and connecting with a cousin, the one who owns Cypress Cove Nudist Resort and Spa, I learned that my uncle, his father, who started the resort back in 1964, had been a photographer with the Miami Herald during the 1950s. When my Aunt Pete, his wife, died in 2000, my cousin was cleaning out boxes in their home and ran across some photographs of my mother and her sister that were taken in their teen years. There is now a vast treasure of black and white 8X10s, and smaller photos of the two sisters. I was overjoyed to be gifted this collection and shared them with my mother’s sister, who was also thrilled.

I want to ask you to take a look at two sets of these photographs that hang on my wall. You don’t know the story of these sisters, Claudette and Carol, but I would like to ask you to tell me if you see anything that hints of a story in these images.

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The images alone demonstrate the differences in these two sisters.  My mother, Carol, a ballerina and dance instructor died of suicide at the age of 26, and Aunt Claudette, a pianist and horticulturist, is 74 years old now.

Carol was a hopeless romantic and a dreamer, and Claudette was a hopeful realist and pragmatic. Carol was cosmopolitan and sophisticated. Claudette was countrified and domestic. Carol, a soprano. Claudette, an alto. Carol was open and free-spirited. Claudette was closed and restrained. As young adults, Carol was dressed in stockings and heels, and Claudette wore jeans and penny loafers.  Both were well educated and cultured in their youth, but their childhoods, teen years, and young adult lives were tumultuous. Music and dance were where they mutually sought solace.

That side of my family is riddled with mental illness and addiction.  Of all the many cousins and aunts and uncles on my maternal side of the family there are geniuses who became entrepreneurial millionaires, and there are paupers who suffered epilepsy, neurological conditions, psychiatric disturbances, multiple tragedies, became institutionalized, or died trying to overcome the obstacle that is madness.  There is a fine line between madness and genius. Mental illness and neurological disorders were cloaked in a veil of secrecy in their era and still have a degree of stigma associated with them that needs to be overcome.

Very few were able to walk the middle of the road, but the strength found in faith, time, and modern science and medicine has made a huge impact. My aunt is one of those who did, although she had severe issues with bipolar and addictions.

I had a brief adventure with drugs and alcohol between the ages of 17 & 19, but addiction was never a problem for me. I was hospitalized for an acute psychotic episode when I was 19, and have been on medications for bipolar and in therapy ever since that event. I drink socially on rare occasions but the experiences of me and my aunt have paralleled many times…either on a personal level, vicariously, or through my patients in my nursing career. My moods are relatively stable now. I am still “driven” at times and “depressed” at times, not to extremes, but such has not always been the case. I would like to tell my story someday, but not before I tell the story of the two sisters, my mother and my aunt.

When I wrote “Red Clay and Roses”, I was telling a story that was wrought with historical tragedy and the serious issues of racial tension and reproductive rights and responsibilities. I wrote passionately about events I witnessed personally or events that had been shared with me by others who had lived the experiences. I did not set out to write a novel by a specific formula or template. I documented a harsh reality. It was open and candid. I have never been one to shy away from that which is painful or shameful. A wounded society does not heal itself by looking the other way, and neither do individuals. At the same time, I tried to be as unbiased as possible and approach these unapproachable issues with sensitivity. On that level, I feel it was successful.

In addition to numerous short stories, I have three works in progress. One is a crime novel. I am about 30,000 words into it and my husband, who reads them daily, loves it. I feel that it is superficial and shallow, amusing and entertaining in its own way, but I am not certain that it carries the weight that makes me comfortable in my own writing skin. Another is a murder mystery. It is more a psycho thriller than a crime novel and I am about 15,000 words into it. I liked the beginning of it, but it doesn’t seem to be going in the direction that I planned for it. Sort of hard to explain, but it, again, doesn’t flow with the passion from the pen that I feel most comfortable with…it feels forced and I am beginning to see that in the way that it reads.  At any rate, I am not so sure that this genre of crime/murder is where I need to be right now. I don’t feel like I am in my element. Perhaps this is something that I can come back to at some future point. The final work is an autobiography of sorts that is almost unbelievable as a memoir.  It is a complex life that I have lived in foster care, an orphanage, on the street, in the islands, small town USA, the countryside, the nudist resort, and the big city. So I am not sure what to do with this either, whether to continue it or shelf it for a while.

Which brings me to questions that I need your help with. It seems to be the passion that I felt when writing “Red Clay and Roses” that I am missing.

For those of you who have read “Red Clay and Roses” (A fictionalized true story set in the 1950s-60s, but involving relatives on my father’s side of the family), you already know that Carol is mentioned twice in that story…once by Hannah in relating her memories of her mother and her mother’s death, and again by her cousin, Sybil, in relating the death by suicide of her cousin, Henry’s, wife, leaving three little girls with no mother.

If I decide to write this book, I would approach the writing process much differently, not as a fictionalized true story being told to a narrator, but as pure fiction (which is always, in part, based on some truth).

Without knowing the details, do you think the story of Claudette and Carol is one that you would find interesting? Particularly, how Claudette coped in the long run to turn her life around. I have been all over Amazon reviews this past week and there seems to be quite a market for this sort of thing as well as the era…people are saying that they are too old to enjoy the drama of Paris Hilton, and too young to relate to the 1930s and 40s, about which so much is written.  Finding and connecting with these people will be another challenge.  People my age and ten years older are beginning to retire, have the time to read, and they are dissatisfied with what is on the market.

As a family saga, beginning in the mid-fifties and moving into the mid-nineties, do you think this story would make a worthy sequel to “Red Clay and Roses”?

For those who have not read “Red Clay and Roses”, what are your thoughts about “Surviving Sister: A Melody of Madness”?