Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
Here’s some writing advice. Don’t listen to advice dished out by mega-successful writers. Like John Grisham.
Maybe John had three spare minutes on his hands when he phoned in this piece from The Times the other day. All the usual admonitions. I like the one where he says don’t introduce too many characters at the outset. “Five names are enough to get started.” There goes your book about a family of six.
And that’s the thing about pro advice. They like to boil an idiosyncratic process (the making of art) down to a generic set of steps, overlooking the idea that writing a unique novel is almost indescribable and that ten of the best writers probably do it ten different ways.
But I forgot: Grisham has the word “popular” in his headline. And he’s been chortling all the way to the bank for years.
I think the most ridiculous thing he says in the piece is that you shouldn’t have a thesaurus anywhere near you when you write fiction. He thinks a thesaurus is only for finding bigger words when smaller ones (understandable by any reader) will do. Crepuscular is right out. He doesn’t see that you might not have all the possible smaller words on the tip of your tongue at any given time, I guess. Say the word “colorless” comes to mind to describe something, and even though that’s a little clunky and lacks connotations, you’re stuck with it. If you’d had your thesaurus handy you might have landed on drab or dingy or barren or lackluster — none of which are three-dollar words nobody knows. Muted. Muted would have been perfect!
I read many years ago that lyricist extraordinaire, Stephen Sondheim, always has a rhyming dictionary on the desk when he’s working. At first I was shocked, that an artist of his caliber would resort to such a workmanlike way of getting his songs out, but then I realized that the perfect word or rhyme isn’t always the one that pops up first. Without the thesaurus or rhyming dictionary, you might not come up with perfect, and perfect is what we’re trying to get to, isn’t it?
But I forgot: Grisham isn’t going for perfect. He’s going for popular (well-liked, favored, sought-after, in demand, desired, wanted; commercial, marketable, fashionable, trendy, in vogue, all the rage, hot, well attended).