It finally happened. You went back to school, got another degree, went back into the workforce for a while and put your nose to that grindstone and told yourself, “Dammit, this will be the time I get a job in my field! I WILL get paid for having a degree in English and all those people who asked, ‘So, are you going to be a teacher?’ can finally go suck an egg when I get there!”
That’s a really great goal, right? Accomplish something so you can say:
I told you so?
Joke’s on you, Smug Writer Who Thought She’d Be Writing Masterpieces Of The Stage By Now, a pandemic caused you to lose your job. Well, almost lose your job. Let’s hope there’s still a job by the time this is all over. I used to laugh at this blog because I’d give all this advice on reading and writing and yet I wasn’t getting paid to do it, then I was, and now I’m not (again). During that brief period when I was legitimate – I managed to post 0 updates. How’s that for irony?
So, here I am back at it. I actually finished another book since being unemployed which is rare for me these days considering I have so little time and mental focus to read these days. That could very well be why I’ve spent so little time on a blog about reading and writing. That and WordPress seems to update their system every time I log back onto this thing.
All this to say, I guess the hunt never stops. And the only consistent (or inconsistent) part of my writing life has been my scripts and this blog.
Much like my rant on adjectives, similes are another major “writerly” Pet Peeve of mine. Good writers can get away with using them. Books get published all the time with terrible, terrible uses of similes. I even read a Stephen King novel once that had similes for DAYS (granted, it was probably ghost written and maybe this was an intentional stylistic choice, who knows), BUT I would argue that great writers learn how to work without them and/or use them in moderation.
What is a simile? It is as simple as using one thing to describe another: Her bosom heaved heavily like a whale coming up for air after a long and lengthy dive into the depths of the ocean. Bosom = Whale. Done. There’s your comparison! Why do I hate this?
- It lacks creativity. Half the time you can take out the “like” AND the bald-faced comparison by rephrasing the sentence to make it sound as though you’re not spoon-feeding your reader an analogy. IE: Her bosom heaved, she was coming up for air after a deep dive.
- Similes assume the audience is kind of stupid. Believe me, they’re not. They’ll know by the context of the sentence that she wasn’t actually coming up from a literal dive, if you must needs use a simile.
- A simile is hardly ever necessary. You can describe the thing as the very thing it is and get away with conveying the message successfully: She took a deep breath and felt her chest rise and fall. < Why is that so terrible to so many writers? Must we always jump over the hurdles of not-so-fancy words to compose a simple sentence?
This came up as a post-worthy topic because I’m currently 1 of three 3 lovely ladies (emphasis on the “lovely”) editing a literary journal at my university and I finally sat myself down with a glass of wine to delve into reading some of the prose submissions. I’m not even going to touch the poetry right now. You can say I’ve made a bit of a career out of reading slush piles for free.
Slave labor, really.
Maybe someday I’ll actually get paid for it. Until then, there’s always cups upon cups of tea to keep me relaxed as I read the third simile in one paragraph because the author could not think of a better way to describe something than by, once again, comparing it to something else.
Have I used similes? Yes, I’m pretty sure I used the “whale” one in an essay in 6th grade. My parents were very impressed. But, I really feel this is something most writers should grow out of as you hone your writing and fine-tune it. Unless your pinnacle of success is dime-store novels. Again, people who write like this do get published, but I don’t think they’ll go down in the annals of history as the writers who changed the face of the writing world. Read the Great Writers. They do not do this and if they do, they’re an advanced version of this trope, a super-simile. Prove me wrong. Come at me, bro.
Though I know I should have acquainted myself with Mr. Coward ages ago (and why I never studied him in any creative writing or literature course in my academic career I’ll never know). Perhaps, it has something to do with the powers-that-be in academia thinking that Oscar Wilde (or perhaps George Bernard Shaw) is the only bit of wit in English theatre necessary to an English major’s education. The fervor with which comedy, smart and decent comedy at any rate, is brushed to the side within higher education is astounding.
I’ve spent a good number of years now nodding when Coward’s name is mentioned and making a fine performance of pretending I was familiar with an author whose body of work I have never read. Not one single piece. So, I went to the library last weekend with the express purpose to find something. I tore through a selection of his short stories in less than a week (“This Time To-morrow” and “The Kindness of Ms. Radcliffe” being two of my favorites in the collection) and have moved onto an early operetta, Bitter Sweet.
Knowing Coward mostly as a playwright, I had no idea he also wrote songs, short stories, screenplays, and a novel or two. Finding myself rather pigeon-holed as a writer when asked, “Oh, what do you write?” and often feeling as though I have not yet found my niche (nor quite sure if I ever will). It was nice to know that someone of such esteem and brilliance dabbled in just about everything a writer could. I have a renewed hope and a “new” friend in satire.
Actually, they are. Sparingly. Want to know why I am not a fan of most romance novels (aside from the usually poor technical writing)? Adjectives! Adjectives to describe the blue-white clothing on the heavily-muscled man’s broadening back (…). Description for the sake of description. As a reader there are two responses: “Wow! This must be a good writer because he uses so many fancy words.” OR “This is driving me insane. I’m not impressed and I just want to get to the next sentence without wading through a jungle of words.”
Sadly, I thank most authors, especially fledgling writers, fall under the assumption that the best writer’s in the world pad their prose with useless descriptors. In reality, less is more. Read the authors that have withstood the test of time and you will not find the surplus of flowery language found in most fiction today. Mark Twain even made fun of this practice in his short story, “A Double-Barreled Detective Story.” He writes:
“It was a crisp and spicy morning in early October. The lilacs and laburnums, lit with the glory-fire of autumn, hung burning and flashing in the upper air, a fairy bridge provided by kind Nature for the wingless wild things that have their homes in the tree-tops and would visit together; the larch and he pomegranate flung their purple an yellow flames in brilliant broad splashes along the slanting sweep of the woodland; the sensuous fragrance of innumerable deciduous flowers rose upon the swooning atmosphere; far in the empty sky a solitary esophagus slept upon motionless wing; everywhere brooded stillness, serenity, and the peace of God.”
An entire paragraph of nonsense. Yet, he goes on to show published responses to the passage from readers who admired his description, but didn’t quite understand the words. Especially, the reference to an “esophagus” in the sky. Likely, Response #1 readers who didn’t get the joke.
In good writing, if there is a lengthy bit of description it has a purpose. Writers have a romance with words, that is what makes them writers, but even the most happy couples will support the old adage of having too much of a good thing. So, please, for the sake of your readership, less PDAs. Thank you.