Those Brits at The Guardian. Always coming up with lists, aren’t they? 100 Books That, If You Haven’t Read at Least 50, You’d Better Get Cracking. Or the 10 Best Films of the Decade and By The Way You Should Like the Coen Brothers. This time, though, they’ve done something marvy: compiled the top ten pieces of writing advice from some truly excellent authors.
They started with Elmore Leonard, probably because his 10 are so pithy, but I’m going to veer off course for a moment and say I am sick of Elmore Leonard. Sick of his hoopdetootle! (You can only be wowed so many times by the word hoopdetootle.) Sick of his maniacal opposition to adverbs! As one of my educations profs used to say, most either/ors are usually both/ands. Phonics vs. Whole Language? Who said there can’t be both?
I am digressing, I know, and that’s probably enough dumping on Elmore, although I’ll also sneak in the fact that I don’t think anybody reads his fiction, so I don’t know why we listen to him. But the reason I really came here was to nominate my favorite piece of writing advice in this stack:
From Anne Enright, Description is hard. Remember that all description is an opinion about the world. Find a place to stand.
I like this because frankly, I have a hugely hard time writing description. Well–not of what people do when they talk; that comes alarmingly easily, as if I’m describing a screenplay. (ps, Hi, Elmore–I just used two adverbs, and I think they worked great!)
No, I have a hard time describing the background. Oy. What’s going on behind, around, and in front of the characters? Don’t always see it right off and definitely, at first, do not care. Yes, of course what’s happening on the street can enhance the action; why, in ch. 4 of Nice and Mean, poor Sachi is almost hit by a taxi, and it’s all metaphorical and nifty.
But aha–that’s because, a la Enright, I’ve found a place for her to stand. It’s not just, “Oh, the air was humid and cars rushed everywhere….” Snooze. I don’t think Sachi cares. If it’s already hot, though, and a car lunges for her and stops close enough that she can feel the heat off the bumper–I think she’d care.
It took me a long time to figure this out. I’m still trying to picture things around the characters more than I already do. But I also think I’ll do better if I stand where I usually stand–in their shoes.
What’s your favorite (or least favorite) piece of advice from the list?
Good night, Elmore!
(Good night, Gracie.)