Thursday, June 16, 2011

"Make Every Word Count," by Gary Provost Book Review, Continued

Part 4 of 4

To go where no one has gone before

In a new twist to understanding writing, the author takes a bold step into the unknown and tries to describe how the reader needs to feel when reading your words. He recognizes the immense responsibility of writing and putting you in the reader’s shoes.

Provost compares the process to casting a spell. Said spell must be durable enough to hold the attention of readers regardless of when it is cast or upon whom. Those black lines of print on white paper may be read by someone who is so unlike the writer that in any other situation the two would probably be at each other’s throats. Therein lies the challenge. Words must transcend time and distance and culture and learned hatred and gender and even death, i.e., that of the writer, naturally. For the most part, the reader is usually alive.

When a successful spell is cast then the reader does not remember to do the dishes or water the lawn or if he or she is married. The reader enters a world the writer created, but proceeds to alter it to fit his or her own experience and needs. It’s a world only the two of you share in your brains, but neither will know or be able to understand the other’s. It’s a connection that can never be seen or felt by an outsider, but it is strong and as powerful as any great work of art. The spell opens a door to a place no one else can go. It is the writer’s job to make that place come alive for the reader.

Words typed on a page can create magic. Suddenly a voice is present as the words are read, as are images and people. When you think about characters in literature who have moved you, it’s difficult to realize that they were never anything other than words on a page. Between you and author, you come up with an image that fit, and it stuck. Fantasy is such a short distance from reality that the two of them may overlap. That explains why television actors often are confused for the characters they play.

It’s a writer’s job to create that magic and hold the reader under the spell for as long as it takes to finish the work. This is the place where style and words work together to capture the reader. If not, then you have lost your reader forever.

Successful writers must learn how to take their readers on a journey. It’s a journey that can’t keep starting and stopping like a cross-town bus. Readers will get off at the first stop and never get back on. Take them instead on a long leisurely drive to the country. Build their interest slowly but surely in the place you are headed. You can always go back to the city later, but first take them to a place they want to discover with you. How will you know where to go? Ask yourself if you want to go there as well.


  1. This is definitely what writing is---it takes us to another place---and it is exactly why I love reading as well. It's why I enjoy novels about the Middle East (I'm far-removed from that land and those customs). It's why I love well-written novels set in another period of history (like "The Diary of Mattie Spenser" by Sandra Dallas or "Too Late the Phalarope" by Alan Paton).

    This was a great review, Mary. It makes me want to read Provost's book.

  2. Thanks, Sioux, I appreciate your comment, and I want to read it again myself!