The Prompter Room

For Thursday, May 19, 2016:


“You can’t blame a writer for what the characters say.”

Truman Capote

Confession time: I am not a fan of the ‘eff’ word in writing or in movies.  (Or in conversation, even though I say it to myself often enough … but I digress.)  So when one of the characters in the novella-that’s-almost-ready-for-release started using it – more than once, I might add – I found myself using other words (like my own favorite, which begins with ‘s’ and ends with ‘t’) instead.

I don’t mind the occasional ‘F bomb,’ especially when it fits a situation and/or character, but I feel like I’m being physically assaulted or overwhelmed when they come at me fast and furiously.*  I’ve stopped reading books and stopped watching movies, in fact, where that happens.  So I usually shy away from using this particular word when I write.

This time, though, the word was appropriate for the character and his situation.  Between drafts, then, I decided I had to be true to the character – to listen to him and not my own Puritanical voice – and I let him rip.  More than once, too.

My first novel didn’t have any swear words – not on purpose, really, but because the characters just didn’t say them.  They found other ways, other words, to get their points across, to respond to what was happening around them.

Therein is the crux of the matter, perhaps: response versus reaction.  When speaking, we tend to use the ‘eff’ word when we have a knee-jerk reaction to something or someone (like when I fell a few weeks ago and turned the air around me rather purple – mea culpa, mea maxima culpa).  When we can take the time, even a moment, to think more carefully, we respond rather than react.

In my character’s case, his use and omission of that certain word helped indicate his personal development.  This can be true for most characters, in my opinion.  It’s not the only way, of course, but I do think it’s something to consider.  If everyone says that word, for instance, and says it all the time, how different are they from each other?

The most important thing to consider is this: is the, or any, colorful language from the character(s) or the author?  If it’s from the latter, then some of those eff bombs need to be disarmed, in this reader’s humble opinion.

* It’s interesting that this doesn’t happen when I edit a manuscript with frequent usages.  If it’s too frequent, in my opinion, especially if it doesn’t add anything except explosive words to the plot, I do suggest that the author omit some of them – especially those that feel more author-driven than character-driven – but that’s on behalf of the story, not for my comfort.


The Prompter Room

For Friday, March 11, 2016:


“To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music the words make.”

Truman Capote – McCall’s, November 1967

Once in a great while, I have heard that music as I write, and it is a wondrous thing.  I wish it happened more often, but I am grateful that it happens at all.  So it is a joy to read the words of other writers who obviously have that inner music.

Salman Rushdie’s newest book is such a one.  The dustcover blurb for his novel Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights (2015) describes it as “an enduring testament to the power of storytelling” and “a spellbinding work … that blends history, mythology, and a timeless love story.”   Rushdie takes the tales of 1001 Nights as his foundation to introduce the jinns of ancient times into the world of today and how the jinns’ lives and ours are inextricably interwoven, whether we know it or not.  The jinns do, of course, and therein lies the story, there are the stories.

I’m only about halfway through, but every time I pick up the book to read, I hear the bards of old in Rushdie’s words.  Like 1001 Nights, I want to hear this story spoken – nay, sung – aloud.

I keep trying to say more about this novel, but nothing feels right.  Everything I try to say seems to get in the way.  Let me just finish, then, with this: If you want to get caught up in a story that will challenge you, if you want to read words that will delight and sing to you, then find this book.  I think you will hear the music of the wind beneath a magic carpet.


The Prompter Room

For Sunday, February 28, 2016:


“There are three rules for writing a novel.  Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

W. Somerset Maugham

“Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade, just as painting does, or music.  If you are born knowing them, fine.  If not, learn them.  Then rearrange the rules to suit yourself.”

Truman Capote

I’m reading a novel right now that doesn’t fit the ‘rules’ – at least it doesn’t fit some standard editing rules.  As much as I want to go through it with a blue pencil, though, it’s become a good story.  It’s a very long book – here’s someone who is actually wordier than I am! – and it took me a little while to get invested in the story and the people who inhabit it, but now I find I will miss the characters when I finish it tonight.

This is one author who has rearranged the rules to suit herself who has made it work.  I’ve read other, non-fiction, work by this particular writer that I liked, so I decided to stick with this novel.  In this case I’m glad I did.

One thing I like about this writer is that she started her novel the old-fashioned way: slowly.  She didn’t jump the reader into the middle of an action-packed car chase or fight scene right at the beginning, like so many books do nowadays.  She’s given herself room in this 30-year saga to develop her characters.  They become our friends and neighbors, we understand the ‘perspectives of light and shade’ they grow into and out of.

I’d forgotten how much I enjoy the slower, casual pace of introducing characters and plot that I grew up reading.  I see a definite advantage for the more immediate immersion technique – and, in fact, have written about it in these pages – but there’s also much to be said for the story that plays out like most of our lives, moment by moment, step by step.  It’s more familiar.

I do wish the author had broken up her paragraphs more.  Some are a full page long.  That’s not just the editor in me speaking – it’s hard for me as a reader to wade through long paragraphs, especially when they contain both dialogue and narrative description, and they go on and on … and on.

Maybe it’s my aging eyes, maybe it’s my early journalism training (one to three sentences per graph, and preferably only one), but I’ve become rather ornery about overly-long paragraphs.  That is one rule I wish she had stuck to.

Still, we readers are forgiving people, for the most part.  This particular novel – I discovered when I brought it home from the library – is the second in a trilogy.  Each book stands alone, but I’m intrigued enough to search out the other two parts now.  Even though the paragraphs (and punctuation) are, in my opinion, still in the first or second draft stage, the author’s development work of and for her characters and their story is first rate.

This is one author who seems to have found at least one of those three unknown rules.