Language is Not the Star

A tide of writerly emails swamps my inbox each day. Everyone has advice on how to write and how to write better and how not-to-give-up-when-everyone-hates-your-work and here’s some literary flash fiction. Here’s some atrocious flash fiction from somebody you accidentally followed. Here’s a Ted Talk. Here’s some poetry. Here’s this new author, that new agent. Here… here… here. All clamoring for my attention. You wouldn’t know what I mean, would you?

Do you do like me, and skip most of them? For writers, here’s a how-to I always open (and usually finish).

I was just working on my synopsis for Bookworm when I got that feeling writers get right before we break our stride to stare out the window at absolutely nothing or get up to pee when we don’t actually have to or make the sixth cup of coffee when we already have a serious case of the jitters. It’s the feeling we can’t look at these words another minute.

I was hoping to get out of writing a synopsis. I decided only to query agents who didn’t ask for one. On Monday my editor asked for one. Argh.

Synopses come right after query letters in a writer’s bowels of hell. Here was my thought just before starting this post: I can’t possibly boil this monster down any further. A synopsis is essentially the process of turning an elephant into an ant. No alchemy needed, right? Not hard at all. So you see why I turned to my inbox for something, anything else. And there it was, the message.

Language is not the star. Story is.

I am in love with language. Anybody who knows me and/or read my work is nodding right now and saying Kelly needs to hear that so bad. I’ve been assessed as making my language a spectacle, of being obscure, obtuse, or for those who prefer bite-size words: confusing. Even my home page is a confession of how much I enjoy playing with words. Robert Frost was the same way. Is it so bad?

If it makes my reader put the book down, yes. It is.

I’ve come a fair distance in this area of being clear. I’ve tearfully hit delete on many a word or phrase I considered poetic or clever, but I imagine I have far to go. I know this because readers have told me they need to read sections several times to understand me, or they need to look up words. This is meant (sometimes) to be a compliment, and I appreciate when friends and family (and editors) are gentle in their suggestions. But the reality is: 99.9% of readers don’t sit down with a dictionary, roll up their sleeves, and be like: now I’m going to learn me some ostentatious vocab (while enjoying this romantic thriller). Haha. Ok. I did that one on purpose.

A synopsis is the entire scope of the book on one page. No symbolism. No magic. Just the facts, ma’am. It was serendipity, me getting reminded that story trumps language just while I’m forced to tell only my story. I was a good way into my synopsis when I veered into this post. Here’s the how-to I used to write it. My elephant is about the size of a cow. Tomorrow it’ll be a dog. And when I’m all done, it will be a glorious little ant.



13 thoughts on “Language is Not the Star

  1. Pingback: Language is Not the Star — Kelly Griffiths | POETRY FESTIVAL. Submit to site for FREE. Submit for actor performance. Submit poem to be made into film.

  2. I wrote a sentence yesterday and thought, Kelly will love this when she beta reads for me. I won’t say what it is but have a hunch it will be highlighted and ‘love this’ will be in the track change column. Bookworm is a good ‘story’ and you just need to write the synopsis like you were telling someone the story. I love the book!

  3. I use the expression “self-indulgent” to describe my writing style, more about me than about an audience. I’m working on deleting more and telling better stories.

  4. We know writing isn’t easy. I’ve had to unlearn some bad techniques — flowery language, long sentences, too much description that tells too much. Even now, I get people who point out a long sentence, and I’ll think, “Seriously? I thought I’d taken care of all of those!”

    Anyway, I appreciate your journey and your struggle, but you are a writer first and foremost because you don’t give up. You’ve got this.

    1. Thanks, Cyndi. I enjoy passing along things I consider to be revelations. You never know what someone knows or doesn’t know. I always appreciate learning from people on the same journey. Like you!

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