Writer’s envy

Peter Temple’s THE BROKEN SHORE just won the gold dagger from the CWA, and deservedly.

I happen to like writing with the occasional bit I can turn over in my mouth and savor. (Happen to write that way too, oddly enough.) Not too many of them, mind, and there’s nothing more irritating than fancy writing, those laborious phrases that clearly the writer has fiddled with and rearranged and added to and changed a verb, a tense, a comma, when really s/he should just have hit the delete button. And a 350 page piece of writing that is an unrelieved flow of Fine Prose is…well, I can’t say how I would respond to that because I know by experience I don’t get past page fifteen.

But vivid bits that stick out, that encourage a re-read with a smile, yet contribute to the plot or the characterizations or even just the flow? Those I have time for. Bits like Temple’s scene where the main character wakes early (“felt terrible, in need of punishment”) and goes out walking with his two unclipped standard breed poodles:

Today, Stone’s Creek was strong, the inlet wide, the sandbars erased. On the other side, a man in an old raincoat, a baseball cap, was fishing with a light rod, casting to the line where the crew flow met the salt, reeling. A small brown dog at his feet saw the poodles and rushed to the creek’s edge, barking, levitating on stiff legs with each hoarse expulsion.

The poodles stood together, silent, front paws in the water, studying the incensed animal. Their tails moved in slow, interested scientific wags.

…and the plot and the walk continue, to a place where “rabbits unfroze, scattered, bewildered the dogs for choice” and the dogs run “frantically, demented by rabbit scents everywhere.” A place that figures later in the story.

As a writer, scenes like that are maddening, just infuriating, with how damned right they are. As a reader, well, that’s another matter entirely.

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  1. Roxanne on July 13, 2007 at 8:02 am

    Thank you for sharing that. The scene is really right. Sigh. I could never write like that in a million years. I am glad someone else can, though–and they even bless us by sharing.

  2. Snart on July 13, 2007 at 7:08 pm

    Greetings, Laurie. I’m new to your blog (but will read it regularly now) and just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy your Mary Russell books. I’ve read the first four two times, and my book club has just finished The Beekeeper’s Apprentice.

    I am a huge Sherlock Holmes fan and thoroughly enjoyed the surprise of finding him to be a main character in your books. You’ve done an outstanding job of resurrecting him into fiction, all the while being true to the man whom Conan Doyle had created.

    Then there’s your use of language. As you say, I turn some of your phrases over in my mouth and savor them (I do that with P.D. James’ work on a constant basis).

    In short, you are everything I’d like to be as a writer: focused, creative, innovative, lyrical, and …. successful. And I like the way your work your faith/knowledge into the books. Nicely done!

    What a lucky day for me when, while browsing in the bookstore, I came across your work.

    Keep writing. I have two of the Mary Russells yet to read, and then move on to Kate.

  3. MOBY on August 9, 2007 at 11:48 pm


    I can’t add your post to Digg. How I do this?…

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