Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

“Reading and writing are acts of empathy and faith. Guard that trust carefully — in this rapidly changing business, it’s the only sure thing.” ~Erin Keane
"Never give up. And most importantly, be true to yourself. Write from your heart, in your own voice, and about what you believe in." ~ Louise Brown

"Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it; write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it."
~Jesse Stuart

"A writer's job is to take one thing and make it stand for twenty." ~ Virginia Woolf

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Two cozy mysteries and just too many words

I love the cozy mystery genre, Agatha Christie's Miss Marple books being my all time favorite and what I judge all the others by. (too bad for them, very few measure up, I'm still waiting for another cozy mystery series to satisfy my Miss Marple craving)

So I picked up a new possibliity at the library the other day, Fatally Flaky by Diane Mott Davidson, the latest in a long series about a caterer (yes, food!) who solves mysteries. This author apparently has been on the bestseller list with her cozy caterer mysteries, so I thought I'd give it a try. It's okay, the first few chapters are intriguing, very tight with an appealing narrator voice, but then it's like the editor took a vacation. Here's a sample of what I'm talking about (keep in mind, this character, Jack, is her godfather who appears in her stories regularly and is not a suspect at all):

"As we stepped into the gray-walled foyer that still showed the rectangular outlines of the previous owner's pictures, it was clear Jack hadn't made much progress. He'd gutted the first floor, so that instead of having a parlor, dining room, and who-knew-what-all victorian-type rooms, he now had a big, open space. In the far-left corner, he'd put state-of-the-art appliances into what was going to be an open-plan kitchen....but he still had no cabinets or counter tops. My feet gritted across the hardwood floors that Jack had uncovered when he'd torn up the old green-and-brown shag carpeting. As far as I knew, Jack had not made a move to refinish the floors, or even to call someone to get an estimate to have them done."

"'Thanks for coming over.'" He was trying to sound cheerful, but his voice was as forlorn as the long, high-ceilinged room that, he'd told me, would eventually double as both living and dining room."

Now, dear readers, please be honest. How many of you made it to the end of those two paragraphs? (The second one I deliberately shortened because I felt sorry for all of you having to read two such paragraphs.)

A long, dull, meaningless description of a house that doesn't enter into the plot. It's simply the main character walking into her godfather's house and describing it-- with a vast array of hypenated words, numerous run-on sentences and boring phrases. Too many words. Period.

On the other hand, here's a sample from the master of the genre, Agatha Christie, in A Caribbean Mystery:

"Outside the hotel grounds, in one of a row of shanty cabins beside a creek, the girl Victoria Johnson rolled over and sat up in bed. The St. Honore girl was a magnificent creature with a torso of black marble such as a sculptor would have enjoyed. She ran her fingers through her dark, tightly curling hair. With her foot she nudged her sleeping companion in the ribs."

"'Wake up, man.'"

Ahhh, what a breath of fresh air this is, especially after reading the first example! Aren't you already intrigued?

Fewer words means greater intensity. Multiplying words waters down your writing. These two examples say it all (but I'll still add my two bits, since it is my blog lol!): Make every word count! Don't keep the fluff, the stuff that does not contribute to plot or character development. In the first book, the author had given enough information previous to this paragraph to show that Jack lived in an unfinished home needing remodeling, and he wasn't in a hurry to get it done. This would have been sufficient without going on and on about it. Respect your readers and don't hammer them over the head with too many words.

When I'm reading a new author and find myself skipping paragraphs at a time, because the words are dull and don't matter, I'm done. I don't finish the book. It may be harsh, but my time is too valuable. I've got other books to read, a lot to do, I won't waste my time.

With Fatally Flaky, I am continuing on, at least for now, because there's enough good in there to outweigh the boring paragraphs. I want it to be good. I want to find books I love, and new authors I can follow indefinitely. I'm an author, but I'm also a reader, and I'm looking for fantastic books! Well-written, well-crafted and edited, with words that count and that thrill me and keep me reading long into the night, when I should have turned off the light and gone to sleep. That's what I'm looking for. Aren't you?


  1. Nope, I didn't make it to the end. A few-too-many-hyphenated-words for my liking.

  2. Karen, please tell me you had to look really hard in that book to find such an awful paragraph? And who was the publisher?

  3. It's true! You want to keep your wonderful, descriptive words, but once you start hacking away at the unnecessary, all of the sudden your story can float!

  4. Kristine, no I didn't have to look that hard and the publisher was William Morrow (an imprint of HarperCollins), according to the title page.

    Krista, very well put!

  5. Hi

    Here! Here! Less is definitely more!

    Take care


  6. I'm a secret fan of Agatha Christie! It's a bit daggy, and people criticise her characterisation, but you have to admire someone as prolific as she was. I find her characters really engaging, and the observational detail of human nature is just great!

    I also had a lot of trouble with that first paragraph!

  7. SF, Uh oh, maybe I shouldn't be so open about my fanship of Agatha Christie:) But she is my favorite light reading--for mysteries anyway--and I also like Sophie Kinsella for light reading.

    Kitty, I could learn a thing or two from you about writing less on blog posts...and comments!

  8. Hoo boy, that was a mouthful of a paragraph, that's for sure.

  9. I tried Fatally Flaky one more time last night, got past two more pages, and made the decision. No, won't finish this one. It's going back to the library. Started Sophie Kinsella's Twenties Girl and am hooked!! I love love Sophie Kinsella.

  10. First - I would like to say that the Jesse Stuart quote to the left of your blog where your profile is... awesome. My dad has many of his books.

    I edited my blog this morning to include that quote in my title/description.

    Hey - loving it here!!

    happy Friday EVE. :)

  11. Hey, Shelby, nice to have you visit! Appreciate your comment. You have some pretty fantastic quotes on your blog as well.

  12. I did make it to the end, but it was a bit of a struggle.

    I agree, less is more. It's something I have to remember with my own writing.

  13. Having just started another Agatha Christie book, I was amazed at how she made reading a newspaper so fascinating. How does she do it? I tried to start a different book last night and although it started with an action scene I didn't get past the second page.

    That sample took me five tries to get through, but I made it. That is the perseverance that I usually have to put into my reading. I will plug through a poorly written book just to see how it ends, as long as I can tell what the story is. The blessing of Agatha Christie is the joy that is found in the process, not just solving the mystery.