a little bit victorian

I received this morning a thoughtful critique on the prologue of ‘The Artificer’s Angels’, my steampunk novel. The gentleman in question had several good things to point out: a contradictory description, some wayward sentences breaking the flow, and imagery problems, all of which I was very grateful for.

But at the end he wrote this:

I also wonder if you are trying to emulate Victorian-style prose. If so, I think you might want to reconsider. The reason is that Victorian prose is really difficult for modern Americans to slog through, unless they are reading a book that was actually written in the Victorian era – then they recognize that they have no choice. The only other time I believe American readers would tolerate flowery prose and long, long sentences is if the writer were depicting the action from the first-person POV of a Victorian.

Now, I understand that this is an opinion, and should be weighed like all critiques. But it’s also a projectory opinion. “Other people won’t like it”, and that bothers me, especially since he said nothing at all whether he thought it distracting.

I’m not even a particularly flowery writer.

Ironically, a few minutes later I read a blog post by Mister Dave Kellet, writer and artist of the Sheldon webcomic. It included this:

One of my favorite things that Victorian writers figured out was how the inclusion of scraps of letters, telegraphs, and diary entries within their larger novels could help enhance a story and fill out a world.

Call me crazy, but I wonder if I would rather err on the side of more Victorian. Unrelated short steampunk stories between parts of the novel. Nano-fiction sprinkled here and there, to go with my pen-and-ink illustrations, my omniscient camera, and my insistence on spelling out titles like ‘Mister’. I’d not considered adding more material to flesh out the setting prior, but now I find the thought exciting.

Am I just being contrary? How does that sound, slogging modern American readers?

sin boldly

Also subtitled, stop stacking adverbs for ‘extra precision’ and make up your mind already.

I should preface this thought: I am the worst offender you may meet in some time. I have an illicit affair with ‘clambered carefully’ and ‘the actual [noun]’, as if readers can’t distinguish being close to something and interacting with it directly. I feel the need to clarify points in time before all actions, less someone’s inner head-real be off by a few minutes or seconds.

Why is this a nasty habit? Because it’s cloudy writing. Because if the weather of your prose can’t change with the mood, someone is going to notice that it’s a static element, and therefore dead weight if used constantly.

Rather than presenting this idea as a rule (I still hate the writing-rules, never fear), I think that modifiers and description styles need to be examined and better understood, rather than defaulted to. Practiced, even. If anyone is willing to try out the idea, try a writing sketch in both styles and note the difference. (And let me know how it goes!)

dancing in e-prime

I have a confession to make. E-prime fascinates me.

Some haven’t heard of the style before, so allow me to give a quick explanation. Those who write in e-prime eschew all forms of the verb ‘to be’, allowing the restrictiveness of the style to force them to find other, more interesting (and often more accurate) verbs. This list includes was, is, are, am, be, been. ‘The house was blue’ becomes ‘The blue house’ or ‘The house looked blue’, ‘I was angry’ transforms into ‘I felt angry’. While the style requires work, patience, and creativity, I find that it also challenges me to consider the language I use carefully. Often I remove entire passages, rewrite paragraphs to fit with the style, but the effort shows. Readers don’t typically notice the extra work, but sometimes they can see that something in the prose differs from what they have grown used to.

Try it. See if you can find independence from easy verbs.