Thursday, June 9, 2011

Book Review "Make Every Word Count" Continued

“Make Every Word Count” By Gary Provost Book Review, Continued (Part 3 of 4)

Find your own voice, be your own person and listen to your heart

While Provost describes example after example of good writing styles, descriptive writing, scenes, settings, tone and dialogue interspersed with lots of useful hints, one of the most telling passages came in chapter three under the heading “If the Writer is Seen at Work, then the Writing Won’t Work.” Here he takes a step back from the writing process to explain that if the writer works too hard, then he or she may leave too many fingerprints that clouds the meaning and ruins the effect. In other words, don’t try too hard.

The second most important piece of advice (second only because it’s been said many times, many ways) is to find your voice. This usually only happens when a writer begins to relax and enjoy the writing process. The problem is, a lot of writing is strained and complicated and just has too many big words. These problems occur when a writer thinks no one will find him or her the authority necessary to write about migratory birds, or art, or whatever.

Your reader is not an idiot

Readers can usually tell when a thesaurus was consulted, or if you are in “impress the reader” mode. These two situations are recognizable by large, unfamiliar words, and series of long, unfamiliar words. Don’t do it. Don’t get in the way of telling your story. That’s why movies don’t show the cast and crew behind the scenes. Oh sure, sometimes writers/actors will address the camera directly, (can you say postmodernism?) but these must be handled with care. If a writer isn’t sure how to proceed, then it isn’t wise to attempt this type of interpretation.

When a writer starts doubting, then the effort to impress begins. It’s like a white lie that grows all out of proportion because you were ashamed to admit that you didn’t graduate from college, or insanity runs in your family or you are about four years behind on student loan payments.

So instead of admitting you are human you make up this whole story about testifying against an unsavory character and are in the witness protection program. Well, of course no one is supposed to know, so please keep it between us, and the next thing you know your neighbors want to know what you saw and how you came to be here and what is it “really” like being in hiding. You get whispered comments from people in line at the grocery telling you “Your secret is safe with me.”

Well now the whole darn thing is so complicated and the only outcome is for it to explode in your face. The only other option is to move out of town, which isn’t a bad idea because people will just naturally think your cover was blown and you had to leave. Then later they can tell each other they were glad you left because they didn’t really want someone in the witness protection program living next door anyway.

This is how writing works, too. Instead of just admitting you know nothing about migratory birds, as do many readers, you start to fake it with the Conservation Department agent who will start using conservation jargon. When he asks if you are familiar with these types of birds, you don’t want to look stupid so you lie, which is really stupid. So he is talking in language you don’t understand, wasting both his time and yours. What a way to spend the day.

This can lead to a case of the writing working against the writer. No one wins and then your editor thinks the story doesn’t make sense. It’s best to stay true to yourself and your readers. Remember, they have no expectations. If you try to fake them out in the first paragraph, they will stop reading for reasons they may not truly understand, but they will stop reading nonetheless.

To be continued …


  1. Hi Mary - I found you through Donna's Book Pub, and I'm now a new follower. Lots of great info here. I'll be back!

  2. Thank you so much! I hope I can live up to Donna's praise!

  3. Me too, actually. But I just found Donna's too. Just a little comment on voice. The book I am in the process of publishing (Breaking the Code, Sourcebooks, Inc.) I don't think is really in my voice. Or maybe it is. I don't know. It's a memoir but it's a rather emotional and serious matter. My usual voice is light and a little funny in a quirky kind of way. I had to hold that voice back for my memoir. Hmmm...I'm not sure what that means. Your post just made me think...and that's a good thing...usually. ~Karen