Friday, 29 August 2008

Narrative Prose

I don't know what exactly is doing it, but my computer's becoming increasingly slow. It's probably something to do with my anti-virus software, or something in one of the Windows security patches, but my technical ability has been far outstripped by progress in computing (or is it regression as I'm sure all the new 'advances' are actually designed to make things worse than they were before).

Anyway, while I wait for my computer to do whatever it is that it's supposed to be doing, I tend to turn a book off one of the shelves behind me (I have three bookcases in the little room that I've turned into a writing room, nine shelves of which (and a bit of floor space) have been given over to my meager reference collection).

As I'm in the process of rewriting, I thought today that I'd pick up John Braine's Writing a Novel and flick through it in search of some words of wisdom. I used to read quite a few of the self-help writing books - less these days after I started realising that many of them were trying to teach me things that I know are wrong - or at least wrong for me.

The chapter I stopped at and grabbed a few sentences from has the same name as the title of this post - Narrative Prose. The first sentence reads:

My working-rule with narrative prose is the same as for dialogue: if it can't be read aloud, it's no good.

Since I've started working on the current draft of my novel (third if anyone cares to know), I've been proceeding by reading every line aloud. This serves two purposes. Firstly, it forces me to dwell on every single word, whereas if I read it silently (without moving my lips!), I'd probably be skipping over words and allowing my brain to fill in some of the gaps - which is absolutely pointless if you're trying to proofread.

Secondly, and in keeping with Braine's rule, it allows me to check the rhythm of the sentences. If I can't speak it out loud, then it's likely that I've twisted my prose into some torturous shape that will probably obfuscate the meaning - or at the very least cause readers to stumble while they try to make sense of what I've written.

For the record I don't check these posts after I've written them, so expect all sorts of gnarly word constructions.

I also believe that there's something pleasing in reading prose that falls into the patterns of speech. As Braine points out slightly further down the page, behind every story there's a person (he uses the term man, but I'm much more PC than him!) telling the story. A short story, novella or novel is the written analogue of the narrated story - certainly if we take it back to how written language developed. And sometimes it's good to get back to the roots of the situation and remind ourselves just why we do things a certain way.

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