The best writing has no lace on its sleeves. (Walt Whitman)
Good writing is like a windowpane. (George Orwell)
These two quotes came to my attention recently. I saw the first one in the New York Review of Books, and I forget where I saw the second one.
It was the Orwell quote that caught my interest first, since it reminded me of when I started to write more seriously. Back then, I used to say the same thing (I have no idea whether I got it from Orwell or just made it up on my own).
I wanted my writing to be transparent, so it wouldn’t distract the reader from the story. I still feel that way sometimes, particularly when I read blog posts by people in the “literary” genre who talk a lot about “voice” and “developing your voice” and whether things are “voicey,” which is apparently a compliment.
All of which is a consistent critical stance on my part, but, particularly with the story I’ve just finished (“The Marvel Murder Case“), where the decades of backstory have been cleared out, it has become increasingly obvious that I’m not as “transparent” a writer as I used to think I should be.
I’m actually rather mannered. I use quite a few fancy words. I often use longer sentences, with a lot of (very precisely deployed) commas. Plus dashes, and parentheses. There may even be some semicolons in there.
(Okay, I checked. No semicolons. The next story will include at least one semicolon.)
So, is this a failure on my part? Of course not. Foolish consistency and all that.
It probably reflects two things:
1) Jan Sleet. I’ve been writing about her for most of my life, and while I’ve influenced her I’m sure that’s gone both ways. And, while she doesn’t have literal lace on her sleeves, which would look silly, she is very precise in speech and, yes, somewhat mannered.
2) I read a lot of detective fiction, most of it between 50 and 100+ years old. And I write about a detective (see #1 above) who has based her life on some of the same books (her taste is not identical to mine, but it’s close).
So, for your reading pleasure, here’s “The Marvel Murder Case,” in HTML, ideal for reading on a computer, or on a tablet, an e-reader, or a phone. Complete with commas, dashes, parentheses, and words like “calumny,” “dottle,” and “bespoke.”