Wednesday, October 2, 2013

So Few Words, So Much Power

I just finished reading The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvator. You can see my review of the book here. In that review, you'll notice I mentioned a comment I posted on Facebook:

"I'm reading one of *those* books. The kind that reminds me why I started writing. The kind that makes me lose myself in another world. The kind that is so wonderfully written, I feel like a total hack and wonder what possessed me to think I could ever do this...."

For anyone who doesn't know, The Dream Thieves is the sequel to The Raven Boys. And this week, my friend Kessie Carroll posted a blog that features Stiefvater's prose in The Raven Boys.

Take a moment and go read the blog post. Seriously, now.

OK, back?

One of the things you should have noticed is this particular statement by Kessie:

"I don’t think there’s a superfluous bit of description in this whole book."


A thousand times THIS.

I know that all the great classics are filled with full-to-bursting paragraphs, passages, even whole chapters of rich, vivid description. I can't even deny that my own writing may run a little long in those areas--at least in Finding Angel. Probably not so much in my other work, as my beta readers tend to whine for more description these days :P.

But here's my point. Description, and prose in general, the way Stiefvater does it just blows my mind because it keeps things to a minimum and yet packs a full punch. A fuller punch than most books that are weighted down with massive amounts of description.

It's kind of like what you learned--or should have learned--in physics. There is less impact from the same force spread over a large area. You make that area smaller--the head of a hammer, the edge of a knife--and the force is not only more powerful, it's easier to control.

After finishing The Dream Thieves I picked up some older historical fiction as part of research I'm doing for a work in progress. Honestly, it was painful.

***Please, historical fiction fans, don't take this wrong. I know that many readers love detailed description, and I am NOT saying my preference is better!

What I am saying is this: 

There has been accusation that fiction has been dumbed-down. That this minimalist approach, with less description and making sure every single action, word of dialog, thought, etc, moves the story forward, forward, forward, is sucking the intelligence from fiction. Granted, I'm not going to disagree that much fiction out there is dumbed-down, but I take heart in books like The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves because they prove that less is not always less. That less CAN be more. That power comes from the force behind the words. That a big vocabulary is only as strong as the intent of the author using it.

In other words, NO, I am not losing brain cells from reading YA, because there is SO much YA fiction that packs real force behind fewer words.

That is how I want to write. And the kind of fiction I want to read. I admit it. And it's not from laziness. Impatience, maybe, but only because I'm seeing it done in these amazing books and I just really no longer want to take the time to read paragraph after paragraph when the same thing could be said with:

"Gansey had once told Adam that he was afraid most people didn’t know how to handle Ronan. What he meant by this was that he worried that one day someone would fall on Ronan and cut themselves."

So few words, so much power. 


Robynn Tolbert said...

I do not whine. I complain, I demand, occasionally I wheedle, but I do not whine.

OK, maybe once.

Kat Heckenbach said...


BTW--it'd-a been funny if you'd said, "I dooo noooot whiiiiiineeeee." :P

Kessie said...

Come on, post some excerpts of sparkly prose as examples! Especially from book 2!

In book 1, on page 47 I think it is, the major plot twist in the last third of the book is RIGHT THERE. And it's played as a JOKE. I went, "OMG! OMG! OMG!"

Kat Heckenbach said...

LOL. Hey--I said I don't read books like this out of laziness, but I do refrain from typing out quotes because of laziness :). Plus, they have those awesome ones you chose to post to read!

Anonymous said...

Great post, Kat, to make us want to buy and read these books now!