Sunday 25 October 2015

Tough crowd.

There was a time when comedy was about the stereotype. The stand-up would mock apocryphal Irishmen (or whatever nation your nation considered a bit dim), or a fictional mother-in-law, or the driving abilities of women. That sort of thing.

These days that sort of humour sinks stone-like into the silence of a frowning audience. What raises a laugh are witty observations on the iniquities of modern life. Honesty, garnished with good timing, sells. The comedian draws deep on the well of their own experience. This of course adds yet another layer to the 'risk' taken. Not only might the audience not laugh at your joke - now they're judging you too. When the comedian opens up some layer of honest experience that they assume is shared and will strike a chord - something in the peeing in the shower vein - there's always that risk that the audience will blink and go "What? You think/do what now?"

Actually this is not a blog about comedy. Although I put lines into my books that I find funny I insulate myself from the possibility that the reader may not find them funny by not depending upon them to be funny in order for the book to work. I don't write comedy fantasy - if a line doesn't make you laugh ... then it's just a line, and we can both pretend that it was never intended to raise a smile.

What this blog is about is prose. Prose that heads towards the poetic.

It's my contention that when you write a sentence that stretches the language and is intended to strike some chord in the reader you also run the risk that it will fail - that it will sound pompous or clunky - and that you open yourself to the same slow-hand clap that haunts the comedian's dreams.

I'm thinking that the reason so many writers stick to the story telling and lay it out in plain bricks-and-mortar language is that fear of putting yourself out there with a line that might just hang there like a bad smell.

When I write something like:

“Memories are dangerous things. You turn them over and over, until you know every touch and corner, but still you'll find an edge to cut you.”


Hers was a bowstring beauty, not learned but taut with possibilities.


“We die a little every day and by degrees we’re reborn into different men, older men in the same clothes, with the same scars.” 


“A man is made of memories. It is all we are. Captured moments, the smell of a place, scenes played out time and again on a small stage. We are memories, strung on storylines--the tales we tell ourselves about ourselves, falling through our lives into tomorrow.”

I'm betting on what echoes in me doing the same in the reader - and if it falls flat it can fall very flat indeed. It's a risk, a gamble, I'm on my stage throwing out lines, hoping I won't be left hanging.


  1. So true! I tend to 'put myself out there' anyway, so to speak, because when I withdraw that element my writing has no personality. And I already tend to waffle when I write prose so I feel like literary mediocrity is a dangerous place for me to be.
    This article makes me think back to Prince of Thorns. I found it very funny at parts, but it was more impressive that it was funny despite being... well, pretty dark. O_O That's an even more challenging feat, because something grim is always going to happen in a fantasy novel.

  2. Off at a tangent, but I recently downloaded a book to Kindle for PC - a perfectly ordinary kind-of-detective novel, not making any claims to literary greatness - and was really aggravated by the number of underlinings. Accompanied by little messages telling me the passage was 'underlined 9 times' or 'underlined 12 times'. WTF? Who underlines passages in books? What's it about?

    1. Lots of people do (I'm told). I don't own a kindle but the shelfari page for Prince of Thorns notes some lines being highlighted by kindle users as many as 17 times.

    2. Sometimes I underline if it makes no sense / possible errors are present. Sometimes to be a bookmark. And sometimes because I really liked it and I can search for those quotes later. Mark gets mainly the last type.

  3. I read your books precisely because of their lyrical nature. Of the current fantasy authors, I think you and Rothfuss are the best at poetry. I just want to reassure you, and beg you to keep writing poetry, however risky it feels. It has not fallen flat.