A good friend made a comment after having read one of my books. She said, “You have two styles of writing. You write like a writer and like an English professor.” Ouch! Admittedly, I do have a fairly good vocabulary – not that I always use it. I used to teach Advanced Placement English, so I know about antecedents, subject and verb agreement and the correct use of semi-colons. Until she said that, I had no idea that there was such a difference in style until I went back and re-read the first few chapters. What I saw startled me.
When I taught high school English, the students had to read “The Scarlet Letter.” What a tough book! I had to sit and read it with a dictionary by my side. My poor students were really suffering! I found some sections in my own writing that were nearly as difficult. Grant you, I was not incorporating words like “physiognomy”, but I did use “ephemeral”, “supererogatory”, and “geosynchronous”.
I think I was trying to make every word count, not use “fluff” words which mean little to nothing. By incorporating bigger, better words, I hoped to convey my meaning more forcefully. Apparently all I did was cause a mad rush for the Webster’s. I never intended my books to be hard work. If I want to make my readers sweat, I’ll put in a hot love scene! My novels are for entertainment.
A day or two later, my daughter told me, “Mom, your sentences sometimes confuse me. They go on forever, and I lose track of the beginning when I get to the end!” After a brief moment of remembering William Faulkner’s nine page parentheticals, I decided perhaps I should change that too. I found myself going to the other extreme – Ernest Hemingway. His short, choppy sentences always got on my nerves. I don’t deal well with it. I don’t like it. It annoys me. It worked for him. It does not work for me.
What’s my point in all this? Write to your audience, not down to them. Give them a little mental exercise, but don’t make them work too hard. Reading is for expanding the mind and titillating the imagination, not making the reader’s mind turn to slush.
If I want to be completely confused, I’ll read James Joyce! In the meantime, I think I’ll continue to search for my place somewhere between “Moby Dick” and “Peter Pan”.
Dellani Oakes is the author of Indian Summer