I Just Don’t Follow! How Heavy Use of Language Can Hinder a Tale
Today's Guest post comes from Mr. Marc Mattaliano.
Read some of Marc's writing here: https://www2.xlibris.com/bookstore/bookdisplay.aspx?bookid=72031&pdept=Bookstore%20Homepage&pfind=browseWriting since I was little, the best thing to describe Marc Mattaliano is his analytical nature that knows no bounds. Intelligence is defined as what you know, while wisdom is defined as what you get out of what you know. My personal experiences have been slight, but I have gained so much from each and every one of them by asking questions, constantly breaking things down and wondering if my choices have been the right ones, that I consider myself wiser than some who have endured far more than me yet are completely unwilling to question anything. When it comes to writing, despite having three full-length books (one self-published, one almost ready for queries, and one in need of major updating), my work may seem amateur to some, but I’ve come to find that everything I put together these days is extremely intentional. A lot of people say they don’t want to die with regrets. Personally, I love my regrets. They inspire me to do things better next time. I’m 30, born and raised in NJ, 100% Italian, and I’m a lot harsher in words than I am in person. Enjoy!
I Just Don’t Follow! How Heavy Use of Language Can Hinder a Tale
I used to date this girl who was a voracious reader. Very smart, sharp, etc. She also used to like playing tabletop role-playing games. We were hanging out after a gaming session with a friend (who started as my friend but ended up being more her friend) and the two of them began talking about Hamlet, causing me to clam up. Despite writing recreationally since 3rd grade (linear details are great for tying a story together, check back to my previous two posts), I’m not a big fan of Shakespeare.
During their conversation about the story, however, they began lamenting about how easy it was to grasp, or at least thoroughly giving me the impression that it wasn’t as hard as people make it out to be.
Little about me. I’m not an idiot. Granted, I haven’t had any blood tests to confirm this, but from what I’ve seen of me, I’m not a dummy, thickhead or numskull. And yet, if I hadn’t had an English teacher explain every little aspect of Hamlet to me that he could in one marking period, and I had read it on my own, I wouldn’t have understood a bloody word!
In a previous post, I mentioned the Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice. Best-selling book series and tremendous author in her own right. Gift with words, Anne Rice has it. However, like I also recounted in that post, I couldn’t stomach getting through even half of The Vampire Lestat, one of the main reasons being that the language was simply too heavy and poetic.
I seriously want to meet an author like that and ask them one very simple question, flat out: “Sir or Ma’am, you’re a best-selling writer, but what do you tell the people who pick up your book and just don’t get it?”
In 1st or 2nd grade, my teacher asked us to write an essay called “If you could jump into a picture.” I chose one from our English textbook. It was a photograph of a castle on a hill, there was an asphalt road leading up to the front of the castle, a red car, a man and woman walking in present day clothes, I remember the picture like it was yesterday. That essay ended up being the first chapter in a book I wrote called The Haunted Castle (don’t Google it, I regrettably threw it away many years ago, never to be published). Every subsequent chapter consisted of about two or three sentences.
For instance, this little gem:
“Chapter 5: Jack’s Girlfriend. Jack’s girlfriend was kidnapped by ghosts in the castle. Marc defeated the ghosts and rescued Jack’s girlfriend. Everyone had a party.”
I’m paraphrasing because I don’t have the book right here in front of me, but that was literally one of the chapters in The Haunted Castle. In need of some beefing up, wouldn’t you say? As silly as that is, though, there has to be some balance between the ease and brevity of “Chapter 5: Jack’s Girlfriend” and the drawn out, overly dramatic and often impossible to decipher, iambic pentameter.
I’ll be honest, the majority of the writing I’ve done in my life has always been somewhat “easy to digest.”
I’ve actually heard elitist authors, readers, and probably a few agents and publishers who have written about what they review, scoff when they hear a newbie’s work is “easy to digest,” which, I must say, is incredibly funny.
As I’ve done above, many of us use the term “voracious reader.” Dictionary.com defines “voracious” this way: “Wanting or devouring great quantities of food.” So, if we’re thinking about words like they’re a meal, and you were to ask a five star chef like Gordon Ramsay if making food easy to digest was a good thing (i.e., not too acidic or not too base), he would probably agree that keeping your food down is a fantastic and delicious idea.
Anyone who watches Ramsay’s programs know that when chefs come before him with a dish that has too much going on, has too many conflicting flavors, too many seasonings, too much battling for supremacy on the plate, he tends to shy away from it.
Sometimes, I feel as if writers do the same. They like playing word games with themselves when they write, almost in attempt to impress themselves more than their readers.
They’ll have a character spit out references in dialogue that are really over that character’s head and they’ll use vocabularies that the characters wouldn’t realistically use. I’m a science-fiction/fantasy writer, so obviously, if you’re to read any of my books, you’ll see that I pull apart concepts of reality like a stick of string cheese, but I at least attempt to maintain each character’s reasonable level of speech.
Like I said earlier, while I’m no dumb-dumb, I also admit that I’m no genius. Does that mean I can’t be a good novelist? Doubtful! If I had to pick out one flaw in my writing, it would be the vocabulary I use, as a part of me wishes it could be a bit more advanced. I don’t immediately open a thesaurus when I pull up my newest work in MS Word as I’d much rather reword a sentence to make it sound catchier and easier to grasp than attempt to throw in some bigger word to make my work sound smarter and/or prettier.
I know there are smart enough authors who can use big words and flowery language with grace and ease, and they do deserve publishing contracts, the right to sit at home in their PJs and live 8 hours a day in their imaginations. No question about that.
But trying to read certain stories and getting hung up on the abundance of long words that could have easily been switched out for shorter ones, or symbolic and personified descriptions of an object or environment just to be poetic, makes reading and understanding where a story is going incredibly hard.
Again, I go back to the question I posed to any best-selling author above, but in a slightly different way. If I’m eager to read fantastic stories, and my head isn’t capable of wrapping itself around such poetic descriptions to the point where I can’t follow the plot, do I just mindlessly force myself to be stuffed with words and concepts and literary devices I don’t understand so that I reach the last page? Or do I pick up another book that’s easier to grasp, and risk not being as pleased? What do I do?
Again, I’ll be honest. I feel like I’ve done adequate reading homework for my whole life. I don’t want to say I consider all reading a chore, but as I’ve read books I’ve loved, as you’ve seen, I’ve also read books I haven’t liked, and language plays into that greatly.
Let me put it to you this way, clearly and simply. In college, I was a Communication major. In my classes, one very basic concept of Communication is that there is always a message. A “sender” sends a message to be delivered to a “receiver.” I can put some abstract concept into language that describes it perfectly, but if the receiver simply doesn’t understand it, the message gets lost.
I’ve officially self-published one book since last January. Sales have been very slow, but I really haven’t gone too out of my way to promote, as I’m furthering a part-time position an hour from my home (that I’m attempting to make full-time). However, you’ll be shocked to hear what most people have asked me when I tell them I’ve written a book, that I’m selling copies of it and what it’s about.
I show it to them, they see a huge, thick trade paperback or hardcover, and they go, “wow…is it a hard read?”
I tell them, “no. Reads a little like a comic book with no pictures. Goes fast, it’s easy to digest, but pay attention. There’s a lot going on.”
Kind of wish more authors wrote like that…Next post on 7/17/11