Words, sounds, pictures

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at Proffitt.com
Tue Nov 13 19:25:39 EST 2001

On Mon, 12 Nov 2001 00:18:55 -0700, Robyn Starkey wrote:

>>Bujold wrote this as part of an intense debate about the merits or
>>not of her writing style. The original poster criticised her on the
>>word level (where I too can certainly see some faults) and among
>>the lively defenses were several which said "but she's so good on
>>the macro level of paragraph, character and plot". And Lois wrote
>>the above which had me boggling at the idea of anyone not only not
>>noticing the words but regarding them as clutter.
>I cannot believe that people criticised Bujold on the sentence level use of 
>words. She has a fantastically smooth writing style and a great grasp of 
>vocabulary, not to mention her ability to be witty on a word (rather than 
>slapstick or concept) level. People making these kind of comments are the 
>type who say Mozart has too many notes, and PG Wodehouse uses too many words.

A lot of people I've heard complaining about Bujold's writing style are the
ones who insist on an intrinsically beautiful prose style, very literary,
where you'd want to read the book just because the words sound pretty.  I
suppose it all depends on what you're comparing her writing to.  But I'm in
a mean-spirited mood, so I think also it's people who've learned just enough
about writing to be highly critical of "errors".  It took me years to figure
out I was just offending people when I did that.  :)

See, I think both arguments--that Bujold's writing style is awful, and that
her skill with plot and character make up for the deficiencies--are wrong.
I can think of ten writers right this second who are almost as popular as
Bujold and whose writing style is TERRIBLE (whom I will not name because I
promised to stop offending people that way).  Those are the kind of writers
for whom plot and character need to make up deficiencies.  Bujold is not
among them.  On the other hand, Glen Engel-Cox, someone I only know from the
AlexLit board a few years back, once posted a detailed analysis of the first
chapter of _Mirror Dance_ and all the mistakes in it.  I think he was right
about all but one of them; it's a solid, technical analysis.  Based on the
rules one learns in writing class, it's correct, but it missed the point
that those rules can only go so far.  It's only useful if you care about
those rules in your own writing and reading.  I don't mind if those ten
writers I refused to name are successful, because I think that's great for
them.  What matters to me is that I don't write like they do, because I made
my husband promise he'd destroy the manuscript if I ever, ever did.

Am I babbling?  I can't tell any more.  Better summarize for anyone who's
still reading:

1.  Lois McMaster Bujold is one of the greatest living writers of science
fiction and after _The Curse of Chalion_ we've all forgiven her for _The
Spirit Ring_.

2.  Being critical of someone's writing style only matters if you personally
don't want to write like that or read anything like it.  Otherwise, you're
just being a smug git and no one really likes you for it.

3.  If Glen Engel-Cox and I ever met in person, a matter/antimatter
explosion would take place, because based on his comments, he is my complete
polar opposite.  (Though we are both intelligent, nice people.)

4.  Writing email in a mildly hyper mood is a bad idea.

Melissa Proffitt
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