Friday, November 29, 2013

Assault of the Garruloids

One step forward, eight steps back: that seems to be a trend in 21st Century narrative prose.

As an example, here's a passage (altered slightly) from a book that I will never buy:

We were in the kitchen trying to find a new way to cook rutabagas when Janie burst through the ceiling. We spent a lot of time doing that --

Bursting through ceilings?

-- working together in the kitchen of the ski lodge; in groups, laughing and sharing tea, or alone, staring at pots that never boiled, trying to find a purpose in life, trying to find the garlic butter. I was usually alone. I had been an only child, and my early years were bitter. I always thought that my parents blamed me for their inability to have any other children, and so, instead of enjoying my childhood, instead of playing with doll parts and setting fire to cockroaches, I spent those years feeling a terrible sense of guilt as my parents longed for a larger family. It's a cliche, I know, and pointless in the context of my tale, but I'm being paid by the word, and readers tend to skim a lot these days. Who can blame them? I certainly can't. Even when I read my own stories, I skim a lot. It saves time and it keeps me sane.

Janie fell to the floor and lay there in a heap.

Back in the 20th Century (that age of dinosaurs), most writers would have maintained narrative tension by focusing on what happens when someone bursts through a ceiling. What's more, to keep the story in motion, they would have provided these childhood background details in passing.

But steady pacing and economy seem out of fashion, these days.

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