Confronting the style demon #WritersBlock


If I have a fault as someone who writes, it’s that I tend to get a bit florid with my prose. My particular demon is complex three adjective and noun descriptions of character, place or time, rather than the more simplistic approach of salting character traits throughout a particular passage. This fault is most prevalent with minor characters. I have a tendency to go right over the top with fixed bayonet, charging into sentences, whooping and spilling gory syllables left right and centre. Often long after a particular paragraph or section has come out with white flag and hands high screaming “Enough, already!”. There’s a lot of fun to be had with conceits and extended metaphors. Especially with the more horrifying details. I have a tendency to be a little too, shall we say; graphic? Especially with murder scenes. Having seen a number of deaths up close and personal, I find this disturbingly a little too easy.

So Angie has to sit me down, pat me on the head, and say something like; “I know you don’t react too well to my criticism, dear, but don’t you think you could have written that better? You’re being a bit too poetic.” Which is true. Too often in my rush to impress, I’ve tried to cover all the bases at once. Reiterating and perhaps labouring points too hard when perhaps I should take them sparingly, one at a time. But I am getting better at it. Not being quite so lavish with my descriptions, and putting more effort into simply getting on with the story. Letting the characters speak their lines and not bog things down with leaden travelogue descriptions.

I blame too much Donne and Shakespeare in my literary upbringing. That and two exceptional English teachers, who were, funnily enough, both Welshmen. Not to mention another college lecturer who introduced my class to reading Chaucer aloud in the original Middle English. Which is still a pleasure after all these years. The cadence and rhythm of the language feels somehow more real when spoken. It has its own sorcery.

However, I am always mindful of this particular edict by Samuel Johnson, father of modern English and Lexicographer is once quoted with saying; “Read over your compositions, and wherever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.” Although like a fond parent who dotes on his children, I’m not sure if I can ever be this ruthless, but I am trying to be good. Honestly.

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Martyn K Jones

A writer who first trained as an Electrical Engineer, then fulfilled various roles within the computing industry. First published in 'SuperBike' magazine, 1978 under the pseudonym Harry Matthews. Since then has written and had published a wide variety of work; from PR copy in trade magazines to supernatural short stories and the occasional satirical article. Emigrated to Canada in 2007. Became a Canadian Citizen December 2014. Now branching out as a serious science fiction novelist.

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One thought on “Confronting the style demon #WritersBlock”

  1. I’m jotting that line from Samuel Johnson into my notebook. It is of particular importance for any writer. Almost always, if I am particularly impressed with a passage that I wrote, in time I come to look back at it and say “what a load of cr*p.”

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