“The poet Carolyn Kizer said to me recently, ‘Poets are interested mostly in death and commas,’ and I agreed. Now I add: Prose writers are interested mostly in life and commas.” (Ursula K. LeGuin, Steering the Craft, Portland, The Eighth Mountain Press, 1998, p. 31)
2. Cut the dazzle
“As a narrative sentence, it isn’t serving the story well if its rhythm is so unexpected, or its beauty so striking, or its similes or metaphors so dazzling, that it stops the reader, even to say Ooh, Ah! Poetry can do that. Poetry can be visible, immediately dazzling…. But for the most part, prose sets its proper beauty and power deeper, hiding in the work as a whole. In a story it’s the scene–the stetting/characters/action/ interaction/dialogue/feelings–that makes us hold our breath, and cry…and turn the page to find out what happens next.” (Ibid. p. 39, 40)
3. Say that again:)
“…I am inclined to fault journalists and schoolteachers, however well meaning, for declaring it a sin to say the same word twice, driving people to the thesaurus in desperate searches for far fetched substitutes….[T]o make a rule ‘never use the same word twice in one paragraph,’ or to state flatly that repetition is to be avoided, is a to throw away one for the most valuable tools of narrative prose.” (Ibid., p. 53)
Above are three great quotes from a great writer <and yes I did use repetition>.
In my twenties I devoured Le Guin’s Earthsea books and other science fiction stories she wrote. When I heard she’d written a craft book, I had to read it. Her comments are powerful. She uses wonderful examples from great writers that made me drool and want to jump up and run to the bookstore (Tolkein, Mark Twain, Jane Austin Rudyard Kipling – just to name a few).
Here is a snippet from a Rudyard Kipling excerpt “How the Whale Got His Throat’ from Just so Stories, in her discussion about pace, movement and rhythm. The beauty of Kipling’s prose weakens my knees.
“Noble and generous Cetacean, have you ever tasted Man?”
“No,” said the Whale. “What is it like?”
“Nice, said thsmal ‘Stute Fish. “Nice but nubbly.”
“Then Fetch me some,” said the Wale and he made the sea froth up with his tail…” (quoted on p. 21)
I chose these three comments, because they resonate with my struggles with words. I have an ongoing battle with commas, a nasty habit of using metaphors and similes (because they’re fun to write) and I like the freedom to use any word to tell a story and to use it more than once if it fits.