I’m sitting here re-reading my copy of Stephen King’s On Writing. You could say I’m procrastinating, as I’m doing this instead of working on one of several editorial deadlines that are coming due next week and the week after, not to mention the condition of my TBR pile, each book of which I plan on reviewing here at Ms. Bookish.
But I love On Writing; for me, one of the pleasures of life is re-reading it every now and then. That got me wondering: what is it about this book that appeals to me so much?
And then I realized, it’s because of this:
But Amy [Tan] was right: nobody ever asks about the language. They ask the DeLillos and the Updikes and the Styrons, but they don’t ask popular novelists. Yet many of us proles also care about the language, in our humble way, and care passionately about the art and craft of telling stories on paper. What follows is an attempt to put down, briefly and simply, how I came to the craft, what I know about it now, and how it’s done. It’s about the day job; it’s about the language.
If you’ve read this blog for the short while it’s been around, you’ve probably noticed, I enjoy popular fiction very much, whether it’s for adults, teens or children. Yes, I do read “literary” fiction, although if given the choice, I’d prefer re-reading certain classics (Pride and Prejudice and A Good Soldier come to mind), and I have a special fondness for plays and screenplays (especially Beckett and Bergman).
But ask me to make a Deserted Island list, and it would be filled with popular fiction (right below Getting Off Deserted Islands for Dummies, complete with a compact inflatable raft as an insert, that is).
For me, the well-written popular novel is exactly that – it’s well-written. It combines a serious commitment to the craft of language with the excitement of plot and the charm of well-developed characters. I admit, too, that I don’t need both exquisite characterization and intricate plot together, either. The presence of one or the other can hook me just fine. But the language? It’s got to be there, or I can’t find my way through the work.