Therese here. I’m especially happy to present today’s guest. Keith Cronin is not only a nearly published author and prolific, witty and wise commenter here at Writer Unboxed, he is also the winning bidder of the Red Cross auction package for a post here at the blog. Keith’s fiction has appeared in Carve Magazine, Amarillo Bay, The Scruffy Dog Review, Zinos, and a University of Phoenix management course.
His debut novel, ME AGAIN, will be released in September 2011 from Five Star/Gale.
To say Keith is an interesting guy would be an understatement. He literally named Water for Elephants (yes, the NYT’s bestseller by Sara Gruen), and is a professional rock drummer who’s recorded with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Clarence Clemons, and Pat Travers. He apparently also plays the ukulele for ducks and squirrels. Oh, and he writes corporate speeches as well. I have a feeling you’ll enjoy this post as much as I do. Welcome, Keith!
Just Call It Freaking “Green” Already
First I want to thank Therese and Kathleen, as well as Holly Tucker and Beth Dunn from Writers for the Red Cross, who raised more than $30,000 for the Red Cross with this amazing online event. Their efforts remind us how important it is to occasionally shift our focus from the relentless pursuit of our own goals, and look at the bigger world around us and the opportunities we have to make it a better place.
A new set of rules
A few months ago, I raised some eyebrows here at Writer Unboxed with a comment I made in response to one of Anna Elliott’s blog posts, offering my unsolicited and not terribly serious Top Ten Rules of Writing.
I’ll be the first to admit my rules are a sort of poor man’s version of the pithy and clever ten rules Elmore Leonard prescribed a decade ago. Leonard’s rules are classic, and worthy of further study and exploration. My own rules, maybe not so much. But I stand steadfastly by my first one, the “rule” I hold most dear:
Never say verdant.
Why the anti-verdancy?
My problem with verdant is that it’s a “writerly word.” I mean, how often do you actually hear somebody say verdant in everyday conversation? No, the V-word is something people use almost exclusively in writing – particularly when it’s supposed to be Serious Writing.
Unfortunately it’s a common tendency for aspiring writers to develop an almost desperate need to be taken seriously. So they thumb furiously through their thesauruses (or is it thesauri?), looking for words that might make their writing seem More Serious. And that’s when bad things start to happen:
- A big nose becomes “aquiline.”
- A prominent chin becomes a “lantern jaw.”
- A really good story becomes a “cracking good yarn.”
- And your front lawn goes from simply being green to being “verdant.”
Gag me. Just call it freaking green already.
Some tough love from a word-lover
This isn’t about some puritanical quest to be “plainspoken.” I absolutely love words, from plain to fancy; from “cow” to “callipygian.” When I read John Fowles, I have to keep a dictionary nearby, but I always find the experience enriching, and I’m floored by how incredibly precise his word choices are. I relish the clever wordplay that P.G. Wodehouse, Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett indulge in with such effortless grace. And I savor the rich use of language in the works of William Faulkner, Jon Clinch, Annie Proulx, and many others whose SAT verbal scores no doubt eclipse my own.
My problem with verdant and the other words or phrases I’ve singled out is that they usually don’t ring true when I read them. They feel pretentious, as if they’ve been inserted by somebody who felt obligated to find a word less pedestrian than “green.” What I’m trying to express was summed up far better and more succinctly by Elmore Leonard:
“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”
Sounding like writing – that’s what it comes down to. To me, a man in a verdant cap with an aquiline nose telling a cracking good yarn while stroking his lantern jaw with his hand… well, it just sounds like writing. So I’d rewrite it.
It’s a voice thing
So how do Fowles and Faulkner and Clinch (oh my!) get away with it? Simple. The words they choose stay true to the voice they are using. Even as I scramble for my dictionary in the midst of a densely worded paragraph of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, the spell John Fowles has woven remains unbroken, because those amazing and sometimes unfamiliar words flow so smoothly from his pen (or typewriter, or however the hell he wrote) that they don’t pull me out of the story. Those words clearly reflect the author’s distinctive vocabulary and way of thinking, so they never become speed bumps for me when reading them.
But hey, we’re all different. Although I can’t say the word with a straight face, maybe verdant really is part of your voice. If so, get down with your verdant self, and spread the V-love. But if verdant is not a word you’d actually say to somebody when describing her lawn, her pool table, or her inexperience, do me a favor. Just say green.
The Verdant Conspiracy: soon to be a major novel from Dan Brown
I know I’m not necessarily in the majority with my stand on the V-word. In fact, in the Backspace forum, a wonderful online writers community where I spend entirely too much time, numerous authors have conspired to intentionally insert instances of verdant into their own novels – just to annoy me. Authors who have joined this Evil League of the Vehemently Verdant include Sara Gruen, Jon Clinch, A.S. King, Karen Dionne, M.J. Pearson, Maggie Dana, Jenny Gardiner, Elizabeth Letts, Harry Hunsicker, and probably a few others I’ve forgotten.
All right, so they’ve got me outnumbered. But I try not to let it bug me. I just assume they are all ver– I mean green with envy, jealous that I have found a cause to believe in. Meanwhile, they remain emotionally adrift, with no literary compass as powerful as my anti-verdancy to guide them – the poor bastards. (Incidentally, the fact that the authors named above have collectively sold approximately 17 bazillion books should in no way suggest their opinions are more valid than my own. I mean, who are you going to believe: me, or some snooty best-selling author?)
A call to arms: what other words shall we banish?
Okay, I’ve harangued you long enough. So now I throw this out there to the Great Minds of the WU Readership: What are some other “writerly words” that cause your noses (aquiline and otherwise) to wrinkle with distaste? Please submit them below, so that we may all strike them from our thesauruses (or is it thesauri?) with great vengeance! Thanks for reading, and remember: Only you can prevent verdancy.
Thanks for a great post, Keith! Readers, you can learn more about Keith at his website, and by following him on Facebook. Look for another post by Keith in September, when he’ll return to kick off his debut novel, ME AGAIN. Write on!