Have you ever read a book that was so well written that you were sick of it by the time you were half way through it?
As I mentioned in my post last week, I’ve been thinking a lot about style lately. Strunk and White, Zinsser, even Elmore Leonard all talk about trimming prose down to what’s essential, but personally I feel that when writers take this advice too seriously they end up with prose that is so freaking dense that it hurts my head to read it, and I usually put the book down before I get to the end.
This isn’t to say I think a writer should get wordy just for the sake of filling the page (unless of course you’re getting paid by the word, in which case, go crazy), but as a reader I like to get a few extra words every now and then.
For instance, here’s a Steinbeck quote I posted last November:
“A large red drop of sun lingered on the horizon and then dripped over and was gone, and the sky was brilliant over the spot where it had gone, and a torn cloud, like a bloody rag, hung over the spot of its going. And dusk crept over the sky from the eastern horizon, and darkness crept over the dusk.”
He could have said “The sun set and darkness crept over the land.” It gets the basic idea across without all those “unnecessary” words, but oh, the dripping, and that torn cloud like a bloody rag. Not only are these beautiful descriptions, but they also set a tone for the story (“Grapes of Wrath”). Would this book have withstood the test of time if he’d gone for the simple statement of the sun setting? I think not.
That said, I’ve also put down books because of endless adverb abuse or descriptions that fill pages without telling me anything about what’s going on. It’s a fine line to walk, so I get why instructors often tell us to cut the superfluous words, but I’d like to say here, because I can, that maybe, once in a while, illustrative verbiage is the spice that makes literature so delicious.