Monday, September 01, 2008

The More We Know...


Church at Marissel,
Jean Baptiste Camille Corot,
Louvre.


The more we know, the more we don't.

Adjectives are bad; adverbs are horrible; description is disgustingly amateur; figures of speech are untimely and ruthlessly ripped -- a hammer-blow cacophony telling us how we should write.

And yet. And yet I read of more than one agent professing paroxysms of delight over receiving samples of lyrical prose.

Yes, I know. It's all about the degree, the balance, the appropriate choice and place and use.

What brought this on was Tannith Lee, known for her lush visuals of lyric horror. While rooting through the bookstore in search of appropriate material to parcel up for outremer, I came across a couple of her novels. She reminds me of George R.R. Martin: the close embrace of sex and death, and the human capacity for corruption, treachery and betrayal.

The river flexed its gleaming muscles.

And as a reader/co-traveller in her world, in torch light glancing from the stone bridge above, I see it thus/remember it so from some former life.

A number of you have this same rich resonance of style. Please don't lose it.

And by sweet synchronicity, Writtenwyrdd -- who is one of those -- is holding a contest to celebrate her bloggaversary and invites entries in inner purple and luxuriant, lapidary language.


25 comments:

BernardL said...

'Adjectives are bad; adverbs are horrible; description is disgustingly amateur; figures of speech are untimely and ruthlessly ripped -- a hammer-blow cacophony telling us how we should write.'

You have indeed illustrated the mystery well, Bernita. :)

StarvingWriteNow said...

Your prose flows like that river, Bernita (and flexes its muscles quite charmingly!).

Bernita said...

Bernard, I often ask what literal hell is this>

Beth, thank you for that charming compliment!

raine said...

The river flexed its gleaming muscles.

Oh, very nice!
Haven't read Ms. Lee. Will have to check her out.

"Lush" doesn't seem to be the style in vogue. But nothing makes me stop in the middle of my reading, blink, murmur a prolonged "ohhh!", and go back to read it again like a lyrical bit that strikes a chord.
(And yes, it is frequently to be found on this site).

Bernita said...

Thank you. I do lots of "ooohhs" reading her, Raine.
She describes a brothel inmate thus: "It was a pretty face, too innocent, with a weak kissable mouth, and cool weasel eyes that knew everything."

Sam said...

Literature is so vast - it hold so many different forms of expression, some sparse, some lush. My favorite lyrical writer is Arundhati Roy. Her 'God of Small Things' is a masterpiece of descriptive writing.

"May in Ayemenem is a hot, brooding month. The days are long and humid. The river shrinks and black crows gorge on bright mangoes in still, dustgreen trees. Red bananas ripen. Jackfruits burst. Dissolute bluebottles hum vacuously in the fruity air. Then they stun themselves against clear windowpanes and die, fatly baffled in the sun.

The nights are clear, but suffused with sloth and sullen expectation."

(excerpt lifted from the first page of the book)

laughingwolf said...

said so well indeed, bernita :)

Bernita said...

Mmmm, that's very nice, Sam.

Bernita said...

Thank you, dear Wolf.

Gabriele C. said...

I think the trick is to for one get distance enough from your own writing to see the bad habits (one of mine's and then) but remain secure enough to defend your voice from those evul rulez.

spyscribbler said...

See, while I love that phrase, I would totally delete it. I've been beaten down. I mistrust myself, I think.

Bernita said...

In other words, a cautious confidence, Gabriele.I agree.

Natasha, you can't let the buggers grind you down.

Steve Malley said...

In most pursuits, 'the rules' keep beginners from busting their poor heads or making damn fools out of themselves. As we mature, we learn which rules serve us and which to let go.

I think the ultimate goal is finding that expression which is essentially you and no other.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I think the real trick is to say exactly what you mean without saying all of what you mean. Take the time and trouble to express yourself so 1. the reader gets it 2. you leave some room for them to participate.

writtenwyrdd said...

I adore Tanith Lee as well. In particular Red As Blood, a collection of reworked fairy tales by "the sister Grimmer".

That was a particular fine quote. And Gene Wolfe's writing has a lot of this, in particular the Earth of the New Sun series. Citidel of the Autarch in particular because it's the first introduction to that world.

And speakign of lyrical prose, I just finished Benighted by Kit Whitfield. It's a very difficult book because it's dense with lyric prose--90% of it the internal observations of the main character who is damaged, depressed and struggling. Worth reading to see a new voice of that ilk.

Bernita said...

Absolutely, Steve.
I think what actually pisses me off the most are the amateur critics who haven't learned that, rather than amateur writers.

Worth aiming for, Betsy. We float on sea of subjective interpretation at all times.

Written, am not sure I like the later Lee at all( not caring for successful evil), but I do love her language and vivid imagery.

Vesper said...

There's much in balance, as you say, Bernita. Also, rules can be bent by experience and talent.
Ms. Lee seems very interesting...

moonrat said...

i believe in adverbs. lots of them.

seriously. (teehee.) no, but seriously.

Bernita said...

Vesper, at times your style and topics remind me of hers - a gothic elegance.

I love you, Moonrat.

Demon Hunter said...

Bernita,
Your prose is always beautiful. I defnintely need to work on my syntax. :-)

Bernita said...

Thank you, Tyhitia!

cindy said...

yes, it is all bad--until you do it right. 8)

may we all play and screw up till we get it right!

Suzanne Perazzini said...

A few weeks ago I read 'Perfume' by Patrick Suskind. It breaks all the rules of writing - only one page of dialogue in the whole book, lots of 'telling and not showing', yet, it is unputdownable.
So who knows about all these rules. I love lyrical writing together with a great story. One without the other seems thin to me.

Bernita said...

I'm determined to be bad, Cindy.

Bernita said...

"One without the other seems thin to me"

Suzanne, I often think the same.