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…
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.
On Twitter @ValerieParv
and ranting about life on The Hoopla