My last post was quite a rant, wasn’t it. Well, that’s what people in the midst of their own junk tend to do, and they do so without thought. In this case, “people” would be me. I’ve been in a bit of a funk for quite some time because too much has changed too quickly, and I’m returning to a world that’s been turned upside down. It’s a world I thought I’d be landing on a bed of roses in old, familiar territory. We can all pretty much kiss that fantasy goodbye, can’t we?
As I’ve continued reading and writing, I’ve realized I’m a long way from earning ranting rights about the work of others. We’ve all got our peccadilloes and preferences, but that’s exactly what they are–very personal and not at all rules others should follow. However, even in the worst of books/speeches/paintings/rantings of lunatics/dull seminars/whatever, there’s usually something of value that can be taken away and put to good use.
From my last rant, I took away a whole bunch of intolerance for the phrase, “Something about_____.” I was much more aware of that phrase than in the past, and wouldn’t you know it, I came across the phrase in a book I’m now reading and discovered (much to my embarrassment) that there’s something about using “something about” in prose that’s an excellent tool of storytelling. At least that’s my opinion.
In my bitchy rant, I did not mention the author or book that sent me off on such a snit, but I’ll happily give title and name of the book that acted as my teacher. The book is Clockwork Angels, written by Cassandra Clare. Yep, it’s a YA novel and not the kind of book I usually read, but this one captured my fancy. Right out of the gate there’s action and an irresistible invitation to enter the world of her imagination. Besides, I thought I could pass the book along to my daughter when I’m done (she’s heard so many good things about Ms. Clare’s other series that I sent her the boxed set). According to my daughter, people are talking about her narrative descriptions. That’s how they define it. I say that she immediately engages all the reader’s senses with such skill that they can kick back, enjoy the ride, and not worry about filling in the blanks. This writer does her job.
For me, I was particularly grateful for being surrounded by the smells of Victorian England. My nose is very sensitive to smells, but I hadn’t realized what an important part of my reading experience smell was. I’m not all the way into a writer’s world unless they pull me in by the nose. Atmosphere is a flat picture if there aren’t smells involved, and I’ll cruise pretty pictures on the web if that’s what I’m looking for because it eats up less of my time. Being a mere mortal myself and incapable of time travel, I’ve never actually gotten a whiff of the Victorian Thames, or a steamer coming to berth off the Atlantic, but I feel as if I’ve been there, whiffed that after just a few pages of this book. And those dank and dark Victorian rooms. I’ve been there too, with Ms. Clare.
But on to something about “something about.” In the hands of a skilled writer, that phrase can set up a scene, alert the reader to discord between what’s seen and what’s felt (in all art forms, we seek to make others feel, don’t we?), or break up writing that has become too seamless and heading for boredom. I was totally wrong about “something about.” There’s nothing wrong with that phrase in the hands of a writer who knows what she’s doing. I’d simply been reading too much stuff I felt I should read to understand this new world or writing and publishing to realize that anything goes, so long as it goes with intention and purpose.
So there it is. This shrew has been tamed. I will never again jump on something that ticks me off without first searching for an instance where that “something” is used well. If I can’t find it, I think I’ll sit down and play with it until I find a way of turning nothing into something.
If you should happen to be a fan of The Bard, you’ll know that his shrew, Kate, was never really tamed. She just learned how to play the game.
Call me Kate In The Making.