On Writing Less

Agreeing With Steven King

Last week I finished Steven King’s book On Writing. I won’t rave about it, since his advice is like we writers hear continuously. Should you decide to launch into it anyway, note that that he firmly espouses the vocabulary of the common man. Personally I could do without the graphics, though he does use four-letter words sparingly. But I cheerfully admit that he does have many good tips on writing clearly — and the sales to prove that he isn’t just whistling Dixie tunelessly.

While he and I are playing in an altogether different ballpark — I’ve never even cracked open a novel he’s written and don’t intend to — we do meet companionably in the stands when it comes to good writing skills. One point being Adverbs. In most cases they should be struck out.

Yes, when it comes to adverbs, King is pointedly blunt. He states emphatically* that writers should snip the adverbs, especially flowery ones, and I heartily second this advice. Adverbs, he maintains uncompromisingly, slow the reader down. (One might add that if they are six syllable ones, they categorically do slow the reader down.)

Reading late one evening, I related sleepily to my husband that Steven King and his friends very wittily played a party game using dialogue tags + adverbs, like “We’re having a great time,” the plumber said flushingly. (I may not be quoting SK exactly, but you get the point. They got rather off-colour at times.)

Mind you, a person could have some fun with that:
“We’ll get him yet,” the dogcatcher growled doggedly.
“Here. I’ll finish that off,” Blimpy said expansively.
“Hold still, will you! This will only take a moment,” the surgeon said sharply.
“Caught any fish yet?” the newcomer asked fishingly. “No. They just aren’t biting,” the old angler snapped bitterly.
“I’ve killed five people this morning,” Steven King said horrifyingly.

If you’re reading a book on a lazy Saturday afternoon at the beach and you’re up for some chuckles, you may not mind wading through a slew of adverbs. But how much humor does one want to mix into horror? Very little. Mysteries, thrillers and their ilk are meant to move breathtakingly along, not amble meanderingly.

I’m writing this for a reason — besides satisfying the demands of the *daily prompt word over at Word of the Day. I’ve just finished a mystery novel and, while the story was interesting and well plotted, it definitely could have benefited from an editor skillfully wielding a red pen. I plan to do a book report shortly. 🙂

Rebel Gray and Union Blue

Part B

My poem started as haiku;
from there it grew, as thoughts will do—
expanded to a broader view
of rebel gray and union blue.
And now I’ll share my thoughts with you.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Warning: Unqualified Political Views Ahead

Not so long ago I read one blogger’s lengthy and convincing article urging Southern cities and towns to take down all those Confederate memorials. Her argument: the Confederate army were fighting to protect and perpetuate a system that held people in bondage. Why should Americans honor their position and keep these memorials to their struggle? A question I won’t touch, not being black nor living in the South. My grandparents came up to Sask. from Minnesota.

Have you ever noticed, though, when it comes to war, how “causes” often aren’t causes? “Religious wars”, for example. How often are they really about religion? Yes, there’s always convincing rhetoric, but how often don’t money, land grabbing, and power lurk somewhere back there, feeding the flames?

This blogger’s take on the Civil War was limited (at least the angle of her article) to the issue of slavery. Ridding America of “the blot of slavery” was the face put on the declaration of war, but I’ve read a few historians who suggest other factors, too. Northerners may have opposed the idea of slavery but breaking the economic advantage of the prosperous South may have colored the picture as much as the issue of black and white, according to some analysts.

Southerners had accustomed themselves to the idea and practice of slavery, but when the Union army swept down on them, Southerners were fighting as much for their economic and physical survival. I’m not sure how much, if any, negotiation took place before hand, or whether the North simply issued an ultimatum Southern leaders rejected. But, as is usually the case in conflicts, the guys at the top make the decisions and the average Joe & Johnny have to pay the price.

Union General Sheridan, regarding the state of Virginia as the breadbasket of the South, was quoted as saying his army was going to strip Virginia so thoroughly that if a crow flew over it would have to bring its own lunch. If the leader of an opposing army about to unleash his troops on your area or country would make a statement like that, would you be thinking ideology — or would you be desperate to save your home and family? It’s only in looking back that we paint stories in their most popular colours.

One book I read describes the experience of Mennonites in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Believers in peace, not wishing to take sides in this conflict, they saw their farms fall into the hands both armies, their livestock slaughtered, their young men arrested by one or the other side. They were hard-pressed to survive those bleak years.

The Civil War, we know, was a long and bloody conflict. And one thing quickly showed up when it was over: a better life for black folks was never the goal. After crushing the Confederacy, the Union army marched off and left Southern blacks to the mercy of some quite bitter white neighbours. Read the history; it’s not pretty. Black families that moved North soon learned that they’d face as much, if more subtle, discrimination there.

A great book on this topic: The Little Professor of Piney Woods: The story of Professor Laurence Jones, written by Beth Day Romulo, © 1955. It’s incredible what one man can do when he puts his heart into overcoming prejudice with gentleness and making life better for his people. He fought a tough battle against poverty and prejudice — and won.

Thankfully a lot of healing has taken place; I trust a lot more will yet. Unity and equality are worth fighting for, but these battles are best fought in people’s hearts. As Jesus once explained: all our actions, loving or hateful, spring from what we believe and desire in our hearts. Think of Charlie Brown’s “I love mankind; it’s people I can’t stand!” That’s a heart issue.

David, who blogs at Hokku, pointed out in a recent post that some folks are preaching love, acceptance, and tolerance, yet trying so hard to silence those who don’t hold the same opinions as themselves. It takes an honest heart to recognize that “It’s me, oh, Lord, standing in the need of prayer.”

Enough musing. It’s Monday morning and I have work to do.