Monday, April 16, 2012

Concise writing is usually clear writing (28) – T.C. Boyle

Novelist T.C. Boyle is a highly skilled craftsman whose writing can instruct and inspire writers of all kinds and skill levels. He is a master of concision. For example, on Page 74 of his novel When the Killing’s Done is an exquisitely executed flashback:

[Dave LaJoy, a man in his forties, is in the cabin of his boat, brewing coffee.]

“The kettle is just coming on to a boil. Outside, the rain has picked up again, drilling the deck, and he’s suddenly transported back thirty years to the cabin of his father’s boat anchored off Santa Cruz Island, a day like this, his mother at the stove making toasted cheese sandwiches – Swiss on rye with mustard and sauerkraut, her specialty – so that the air grew dense and sweet with the smell of them, and he with a cup of hot chocolate and a stack of comics, cozy, cozy and safe and enclosed. Like now. Like right here and now.” (99 words)

To insert this memorable flashback, Mr. Boyle uses fewer than 100 words, including the transition into the flashback (“he’s suddenly transported back thirty years”) and the transition out (“Like now. Like right here and now.”) You will rarely see a flashback this concise.

The Takeaway: To improve the clarity of your writing, spend at least 10 minutes a day reading aloud from writers who write clearly. You will see, hear and feel the stark contrast between careful, grown-up diction and the careless, infantile diction that besets us every day. If you would like a list of recommended writers and works, please email me at joeroy(at)joeroy(dot)com. Ask for my “List of Writers to Absorb.” I will respond via email.

See disclaimer.

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