Sunday, 5 August 2012

A thought on easy reads

One remark people often make about my books is that they are an easy read. Discerning readers mark me up for this, realizing that there is no virtue in a book being difficult - that doesn't make it clever or deep, it's just a sign of bad writing.

Who wants confusing paragraphs you have to reread to get the sense of, or dialogue where it's not clear who is speaking, or passages where you are not certain what is going on? Good prose becomes invisible, and never stands between the reader and the story.

I spend a lot of time going over my books as I write, tweaking and improving, adding bits and changing words, thinking about the characters. As well as clarity, this adds depth and detail that makes for a more rewarding read. I'm doing it now with Ice Diaries, the WIP. (I know some schools of thought maintain an author should plough straight through the first draft, never looking back until it is complete; but in my opinion the only rules worth abiding by are those for spelling, punctuation and grammar. Otherwise, I believe in doing whatever works for you.)

So I don't get irked when a reader races through one of my books and assumes it was as easy for me to write as for her to read. I take it as a huge compliment.


  1. Never let 'em see you sweat. Our final product is like an actor or musician's performance. The audience doesn't need to see the rehearsals, the hours of practicing scales or exercises both physical and mental necessary to bring a character or piece of music to life. Writing is perhaps the least spectator friendly endeavour to be found.

  2. You are right, of course. As a rule, I think people underestimate the effort-to-talent ratio involved in anything. Some artists like to pretend they do it all with a light flick of the wrist. Margot Fonteyne, a hard worker, said she was unfortunate to train at a time when it was unfashionable to be seen to try too hard.

  3. My books have also been called an "easy read" and that always makes me smile. There are enough hard things to do in life, being entertained shouldn't be one of them!

  4. I agree that your books are an easy read, Lexi, so thanks for the effort you put into writing them. What I loved about this post though is that intriguing mention of Ice Diaries - can't wait to hear more!

  5. Jan, agreed, good fiction gives readers a break from real life while enlightening them about it.

    Katherine, thanks. I've written two thirds of Ice Diaries, so hope it won't be too long.

  6. Lexi!! Am on tenterhooks waiting waiting waiting for the 100 m finals!! And no matter how Bolt and Blake et al make it LOOK easy - it AIN'T!!!!!!

    Just like creating a piece of art!

    What am I talking about!!??! It's the Olympics!!!

    Take care

  7. Thank goodness writers don't spend ages training for a brief performance every four years. Much easier for us (though no gold medals, cheering crowds, or Kitty on tenterhooks and getting all reckless with exclamation marks).

  8. The clearest prose I've ever found would be Dashiell Hammett's. I'd advise any author to study his wordsmithing.

    My WIP is unlike my other work in that it's intentionally challenging: long, twisty sentences and twenty dollar words, because that's who the narrator is. There's a market for challenging stuff too, but smaller.

  9. I haven't read any Dashiell Hammett since I was the daughter's age. Must take another look.

    Your WIP does sound challenging. Of course, you will get reviewers who assume that's just the way you write. (I think I'd run such a narrative voice past a few beta readers to see if they could live with it over a whole book.)

  10. I've got 130 pages and I'm still having a ton of fun writing that voice. If I'm the only person on the planet who enjoys reading this book so be it. That's one of the best things about the indie movement IMO: the flowering of diversity.

  11. My experience, both with jewellery and novels, is that if I think it's good at least a proportion of the public is bound to too.

  12. I never assume that a book that's easy to read was easy to write! It's much, much easier to write something turgid, complicated and confusing than it is to write prose that seems almost transparent in its clarity.

    I can't wait for your next book.

  13. Yo FH!

    Writers work hard so the reader doesn't have to :o)

  14. I'm not very clear about the reasons why a book is 'easy to read'. Some possibilities that occur to me are:

    a) An exciting,fast moving plot.

    b) Relationships and characters are uncomplicated but interesting enough to avoid boredom.

    c) Excessive detail, inessential to the plot is avoided.

    d) Order prevails over chaos so that one does not get lost in entangled sub-plots.

    e) The writer has such skill with words that the most complicated entangled situations are illuminated as if by a flood light. Laser like focus spotlights details when important.

    A combination of a) and e) characterise my auto-buy authors, including Lexi ..... especially Lexi!

  15. Can I just say I LOVE the idea of being one of your auto-buy authors.

    (Thinks: would it be possible to clone Q so that there were millions of Qs, all sharing the same literary taste?)

  16. Sounds as though a sequel to 'replica' is in the offing. Could be a lot of fun! LOL

  17. Ha! Got to finish the WIP first...

  18. OK, quantum, I'm stealing your phrase "auto-buy authors"! I wonder who's on your list (in addition to Lexi, I mean!) Tanya Huff is another one of mine.