I love writing and reading. I love slipping into the world of the novel with its believable characters, its enjoyable setting, its gripping story. Unique well-written styles delight me. I enjoy words and I enjoy writers who obviously do too.
But during the past, say, fifteen years, there’s been a difference. I wonder if we’re being ripped off. With the emphasis on ‘tighten it up’, ‘delete every unnecessary word, especially adverbs’, has sometimes come a blandness, a lack of individual style.
I would like to – realising these are just my own views and not gospel – express my feelings about the current trend.
Why the push to write so succinctly?
We are told: We live in a fast-paced society. Nobody will take the time to read your novel if it is written in a leisurely way, with adverbs dangling everywhere. It’s action readers want. It’s a text message world. People want facts delivered fast and hard. It’s even been whispered: the Real Reason is that publishers have to save money on printers’ ink! Seriously (woops, another adverb!).
I see their points.
But nothing quite replaces a good book which creates a world where you can escape for that precious time of unwinding at night. So let’s have a look at a few of the contemporary authors I’ve really enjoyed – and who are also best sellers. I applaud these writers who have felt free to ignore the current trend and wend their way patiently through descriptions, adverbially modified where appropriate, and to repeat things for effect. To write with their own distinctive style.
Kate Morton, author of The Shifting Fog, The Forgotten Garden and a few others. Kate rambles, gives plenty of details, takes her time in getting to the first pivot point of the story arc (I wonder if it may be too long but I so enjoy the journey, I forgive her), and she periodically addresses the readers.
She takes us into the magical worlds of her characters and her 500plus page novels are captivating reading. I willingly suspend my disbelief! (Did anyone else have an urge to pray for Eliza, in The Forgotten Garden, when she is about to make her final disastrous decision?)
Then there’s Alexander McCall Smith, particularly in his first five or six Botswana books – his quaintness of style, his creative use of words, his wonderful character Precious Ramotswe, all are a delight and take one into the ‘dry, aching land’ of Botswana with its ‘vast empty sky’. Its characters talk like many people do. “It’s just like that, Mma. It just is.” All set amid adverbs galore.
Why delete adverbs? They – well, they modify!
‘Find a better verb,’ you say. Sometimes this works. But I prefer fluid, textured prose with a sprinkling, only where appropriate, of adverbs.
Recently I read Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. The first several hundred pages of this gripping testimony are almost devoid of adverbs and despite the wonderful story, I felt the prose lacked texture. It was hard and staccato in this part. Well . . . I thought so.
There’s definitely a place for simply-written, fast-paced novels. I’m sure they will continue to be popular. But give me a novel that feels free to break the current rules and leads me into its special world with the author’s individual writing style and well-rounded characters.
Jeanette Grant-Thomson, a Brisbane author, has been writing in various genres since she was a child. She began book-length works with her biographical novel Jodie’s Story, published in 1991.Her most recent novel is Lantern Light, set in PNG and Brisbane in 1972-4.