WIR #7: You Can Write a Novel

You Can Write a NovelBocca, Geoffrey. You Can Write a Novel. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. Copyright © 1983, by Geoffrey Bocca.



As many times as I've read this, I never tire of it.

Bocca's advice and examples in Chapter 6, "Action and Dialogue," are unequaled. Its pith is such that I couldn't possibly provide a solitary quote as representative of its worth.

Chapter 8, "Some Thoughts On Style," is invaluable. Here, however, I will provide a brief sample:

Another danger word is as. I have noticed a funny thing about the word as when it appears in the middle of a sentence. It invariably separates two themes, the theme in the second part of the sentence being always the stronger of the two. When the as is removed the sentence is converted into two sentences and reversed, the impact is always stronger. Examples:

Weak: Can't they see how lonely I am, Christine wondered as the conversation turned away from her to people and events about which she knew nothing.
Strong: The conversation turned away from her and drifted to people and events about which she knew nothing. Can't they see how lonely I am, Christine wondered.

Weak: The blue bottle slipped from her hand as she went down, skirt twisting above her thighs.
Strong: She went down, skirt twisting above her thighs. The blue bottle slipped from her hand.

Weak: She answered between laughs as she jumped over the rows of corn he had just planted.
Strong: She jumped over the rows of corn he had just planted and answered between laughs.

The use of as in the above examples is not only a weak construction, it also confuses and reverses cause and effect: Christine wonders at the others' blindness to her loneliness because of their actions; the bottle slips from the second girl's hand because she went down; the last example isn't so much a reversal of cause and effect as it is awkward phrasing.

If I might employ a cliché, these two chapters alone are well worth the price of the book — now that it's out-of-print, however, they make the book an ingot of gold. Bocca sets a high standard, but it is worth reaching for it.

2 comment(s):

monstro said...
January 24, 2010 2:52 PM

Very interestesting. I had never thought about the consequences of using (and not using) "as". :)

g d townshende said...
January 24, 2010 5:08 PM

I hadn't thought about it, either, actually. But seeing this, I think he's got a great point. To me, this is something to add to my list of things to check when revising my first drafts.

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