Come play inside a writer's brain, scary!

Most writers worry about getting the words right. I think we should worry more about getting the message right. A piece of so-so writing that has something to say can be forgiven a lot. And by message, I don’t mean something profound about the world or the human condition, though they can be in there, too. Mainly I mean a story we didn’t know we wanted to hear until the author wrote the book.

Have you read Clive Cussler’s first big seller, Raise the Titanic? I read this book many years ago, before Cussler became a household name, and a l-o-n-g time before the Titanic had been located. The book was riveting. The idea of finding this fabled ship, bringing her back to the light, and solving the mysteries of her sinking was what Hollywood and many publishers call high concept. The title says it all and is one of the best pitch lines (the single sentence you’re supposed to distill from your book idea in order to sell it)  ever written.

So what’s the problem? The book is also one of the most awkwardly written I’ve ever read,  riddled with grammatical flaws and horrendous viewpoint jumps. Perhaps they’ve been fixed in subsequent editions, but even if they had, the book couldn’t be a better read. In this 100th anniversary year since The Titanic was launched, even knowing the facts doesn’t spoil a good story.

What sold Raise the Titanic to millions of readers and to the movies, was the power of its ideas and the author’s passion to share them with us. Cussler had been an expert diver since 1952 and his love for and knowledge of diving underpins the story. I couldn’t put it down until I found out what happened on the next page…and the next…

It helps to keep your reader guessing

As writers, this should be our Holy Grail – to keep readers turning pages, anxious to find out what happens. If we can make them sneak a peek at the end to make sure the main character survives the journey, better still. We’ve got them involved, made them believe our fiction and care about our characters.

That’s your task as a writer.

I have my friend and neighbour, John Cooper, to thank for inspiring this post.  He spent some of the Christmas break poring over a book of very big words – VERY BIG words – and conceived a romance novel plot using his favourites. If words were truly the key to success in writing, this should be a best-seller. See if you think it would be.

A verisimilitude belles-lettres hypertrophic bathykolpian callipygian defenestration with

metempsychosis concupiscent anthropophagouseness.


The story stands a better chance when John puts it in basic English –

The true story of a lady with huge breasts and a nice azz who gets thrown out of a window

only to be reincarnated as a lustful man-eater.

Now that story, I’d buy.

What do you think of the role of words in writing? Post your comments and thoughts below.

Valerie Parv

On Twitter @ValerieParv

On Facebook

and ranting about life on The Hoopla

Comments on: "In writing – what you say matters as much as the way you say it" (5)

  1. First of all I LOVE that picture LOL. Second, I am having a year of words over at my blog (reading the dictionary – all 1122 pages in 366 days!) While I am learning some fab new words, I so agree that you need to be careful how you use (notice I did not say over use) words. I will be doing a post in due course on being word wise. Still, learning new words so far has been wonderful. Roll on 2012! Very timely post VP

    • Impressive task you’ve set yourself Jenn. Why don’t we “talk” between our blogs as you make progress. I also love words but find the more books I write, the more I seek to simplify the words themselves so what I’m saying comes through more clearly.

      • Interesting commnet from you Valerie about ‘simplify the words’. I am concerned that my written words are too simple, too much every day language and readers will be turned off by the simplicity of the words. Perhaps I am on the right track, then again….I know that it is horses for courses. There are those that want complicated storylines and paragraphs that need digesting to get the meaning and then again there are those that just want the story with the words enticing them to ‘keep turning the pages’and better still to be wanting to read another book from that writer. I think I will keep going with the simple everyday words and hope that they come best sellers…lol, cheers MoonWoman

      • Hi Moonwoman, thanks for your comment. The aim in simplifying the writing is to make your message stand out. You want readers to be immersed in the story rather than focusing on the words. There can be no more direct message than Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, yet no one would call that “too simple”. As long as you’re not “talking down” to readers, clear writing is likely to carry more power, although it is far from easy to achieve. The text of Lincoln’s speech can be read here and is generally regarded to be his finest.

  2. Very well said and in words I understand 🙂

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