Words, Sounds, Pictures

Ven ven at vvcrane.fsnet.co.uk
Mon Nov 12 21:41:20 EST 2001

Robyn wrote
> 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.

And Melissa replied
> 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.

To be fair, prettiness is not the only nor even a neccessary 
attribute of beautiful prose.

  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. 
> :)

This was the problem the original critic was having, see below.

> 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.

Lol. I think Mr Engel Cox may have been cross posting
because it was just that detailed analysis of Mirror Dance that 
began the rec arts sf discussion. I'm useless at preserving links
but if people can find the site then a search on "Glenn Engel-Cox" 
amd "Mirror Dance" should do the trick. it's an interesting 
discussion, not least because it threw up that post from LMB that I 
used to start this thread.

I don't propose to go into the whole argument, Robyn, but i'll try to 
give some of the flavour. GEC was using "The Turkey City 
Lexicon", basically a list of things to avoid in writing, ranging from 
issues of grammar (traps one can fall into) to style and taste. The 
criticisms are GEC's (providing I have remembered correctly) the 
conclusions are mine based on the discussion.

1. Infodumps/ Frontloading: refers to  large chunks of exposition 
clogging up the beginning of a story in this case a lot of backstory 
and background explaining where Miles is and what happened 
before Miles woke up in sickbay.

Conclusion: guilty but constraints of series writing provide 
considerablle mitigation.

2. Said Bookisms: use of unneccessary/inappropiate synonyms for 
said. Apparently at one time people really did think "said" was to 
be avoided to the extent of publishing lists of these synonyms. To 
see what is wrong with this, imagine pages of dialogue in which 
nobody just says anything but all have to grunt, mutter, moan, 
chortle, sing, grumble, howl, hiss, sigh, yell, shout etc etc until 
they sound like a barnyard cacophony. One should, so says the 
TCL, be able to convey tone of voice through the cadence of the 
words, and particularly avoid cliched and absurd synonyms for said.

GEC accused LMB of several said bookisms, including having 
Miles "bark" something -- he cited absurdity since Miles is not a 

Conclusion: not guilty since "bark" is widely accepted to be a way 
of speaking as well as what a dog does.

Oh and cadence is all very well in complex sentences but 
someone provided the following example which shows that these 
words do convey meaning.

"Get in here" said the sergeant.
"Get in here" bellowed the sergeant
"Get in here" barked the sergeant.
"Get in here" screamed the sergeant.
"Get in here." yodelled the sergeant.

3. Clumsy, cliched or nonsensical phrases: GEC highlighted a 
number of these, for example, in sick bay an anxious tech took 
samples of "every fluid his body could be made to exude."
Various people had fun commenting on the absurdity of literally 
extracting tears, pus and other things too nauseating to remember 
in a routine examination.

Conclusion: LMB is making extensive use of indirect reported 
thought, the story is told very tightly in Miles' point of view and thus 
"every fluid etc" is a Milesism and thus allowed.

This fits in nicely with the stuff on point of view that Sally was 
discussing a while back. Someone pointed out that anyone reading 
LMB who didn't recognise his pov in the writing would be missing 
an awful lot and it was no wonder they didn't like the books.

Yeah, I'm with the LMB enthusiasts, but found thios a fascinating 
discussion of how different pepole read texts and write them.

The truth will make ye fret

Terry Pratchett, The Truth.
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