Let me quote from LouAnn Lofton’s fine blog where she discusses three Pulitzer jurors who have read hundreds of novels and picked three candidates for the Prize…
LouAnn Lofton: “I especially enjoyed their discussion about owning up to their own biases when it comes to how they each define “good writing.” Michael Cunningham said he’s a ‘sentence queen,’ which I thought was about the best thing ever. He said he’s a sucker for beautiful writing, lovely sentences, interesting constructions. That’s his bias, whereas Maureen Corrigan said hers was demanding a plot. She said she wished they taught ‘plot’ in current MFA programs, that there’s just not enough of it happening in books today. Susan Larson fell somewhere in between. (I confess to being something of a ‘sentence queen’ myself. I love it when writers string together words in a way that stops me and makes me re-read the sentence, marveling at the beauty of what they’ve done.)”
LouAnn Lofton’s interesting and uplifting site is here: http://alittlelifeinthebigeasy.com/
Obviously, I would side with Maureen Corrigan, the Pulitzer juror who wishes story plotting were taught in the Master of Fine Arts programs.
Nevertheless, I concede that if you want to become a defendant before this elite group of jurors and judges, you might want to follow the paradigm of university creative writing classes that pursue “beautiful writing, lovely sentences,” and “interesting constructions.”
As you may recall (ad nauseam), for me, a focus on word selection, sentence structure and clever phrase production interferes with the creative work of plotting emotions, plotting conflict rhythm, plotting character development, and maintaining the viewpoint character’s voice throughout contrasting events that naturally tend to make vp characters change their inner milieu of personality and voice.
The reason a “sentence queen” mindset interferes with my work is that it’s technical. Granted it’s a creative use of technique, but it’s still a concrete distraction from the unselfconscious right-hemispheric work of creativity, to the left-brain’s rules and tools.
Personally, having been fed a steady diet of “sentence queen” vegetables throughout my earlier years as a writer, I find this focus impossible to shake. It has become the single largest waste of my writing time, even though I fight it like the dickens, forcing myself to “just leave” dangling participles, passive verbs, inefficient phrases, hackneyed expressions, etc.
Force isn’t the way of art and creation. Leaving “wrong” things in my prose feels like leaving a fingerprint on my glasses – self-consciously avoiding self-consciousness.
“Chasing the tail of dogma” (Maynard James Keenan of Tool) comes to mind.
The result is, I’m an inefficient writer who will never become prolific unless I live to be 114 (which I plan to do, by the way) and schedule a lobotomy at my earliest convenience.
But I digress…
Keeping the viewpoint character thinking and talking like one consistent soul throughout all scenes – compassion, flirtation, fighting, tragedy, heroism, and moments of insanity or weakness – is nearly impossible for me. (But I like this sort of challenge.) It would be easier, I guess, if there were no plot extremes to stress the character, just a leisurely meandering from one calm scene to another.
So I can see the temptation to go that route.
I might have even given it a try if I thought I had a rare gift for words…
And if I thought there were millions and millions and millions of average readers interested in plotless, cleverly worded stories.
I don’t think either of these is true.
M. Talmage Moorehead
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