Thursday, March 06, 2014

How to Write a Novel part Seven

James O. Born

The language of the novel has everything to do with how it's received and the way in which a reader perceives it.  I know that sounds obvious, but many writers don't seem to get it.  I'm not talking about every novel written with exquisite prose and flowery language.  Some novels are written bluntly and to the point.  Some tell the story of survival and danger and require a different tone.  Some have a lighter touch and certain language would crush the comedic timing.  One way to think of the tone of your writing is the music to a movie.  I am a fan of Shakespeare's Henry V and seen the movie starring Laurence Olivier several times.  In
addition, I've seen the remake by Kenneth Branagh dozens of times.  It's the same story with essentially the same dialogue.  (I would hope that they were both following the same source material).  But the impact of the remake by Branagh is much stronger in my opinion and it took me a number of viewings to figure out why.  Laurence Olivier is arguably one of the greatest actors of all time.  The production with him is from the 1950s and is spectacular.  After careful consideration, I realized it was the music of the remake that set the tone and made it that much more exciting for me.  Others would disagree, but I find the remake to be far superior to the Laurence Olivier version.  And I generally don’t care what others think.  They only get in the way of what I think.
Consider all that when you decide how you want to tell your story.  Our friend and fellow blogger, Paul Levine, once told me about his experience writing the excellent novel Illegal
He changed the tone of the novel by simply referring to the protagonist by his last name, Payne, instead of his first name, Jimmy.  That gave the story a harder edge.  I thought it was a brilliant and simple move and an explanation that should be in writing classes.  So now it is.  Thank you, Paul.
The other language quirk that I would look at if I were starting my first novel was avoiding clichés.  Things do stick out like sore thumbs, but they also stick out like George Bush's ears or, for that matter, Barack Obama's ears.  Have I just stumbled onto a hidden code about our presidents?
One of Elmore Leonard's famous rules is never used the phrase, "Then all hell broke loose."  I listened to him so intently that I don't even use that phrase in real life anymore.
Is he a smart as a whip?  Or are smart as Neil Degrasse Tyson?  This one isn't really a cliché because Tyson is a very bright
guy.  Use your own imagination, I'm tired of doing all the work. 
Is he lonelier than an Amish electrician? (Thanks Larry the Cable Guy).
Something faster than a speeding locomotive or is it faster than Adrian Petersen in the open field.  Is it faster than the French army in reverse?  (You can never go wrong poking fun at French military expertise.)
They don't all have to be funny, they just have to avoid being clichés.  Personally, I avoid clichés like the plague. 
Work smarter not harder.  Or whatever.

Our quote this week is more contemporary, but right on the money, I mean, as precise as George Will’s elocution.

You either have to write or you shouldn’t be writing. That’s all.”― Joss Whedon


  1. Look so inspirational writing is here concerning the writing and author. Your entire all of concept is handy for me but the debut authors, chronicling the year of our book launches issue is very delighted for me. I hope also help us a lot for any kind of writing services.

  2. Your posts are a cornucopia of information. Keep it up.

  3. If you'd worked a little harder on this, James O, you could have had side-by-side presidential ear pictures. No problem. As it is, this is merely a great post. Have a nice day.

  4. James O. Born3/06/2014 1:56 PM

    Good idea, Patty. Maybe next week.

    Jim B.

  5. Interesting concept about the music differences in movies. Never thought of that. When I read a book, whether or not I like a book is based on several factors: are any of the characters likable? is it too much of a challenge to read (the stories are too jumbled for me to follow, for example) ? There are several other things too. It has to grab my interest.

  6. Thanks for the plug of "Illegal." Strange history there, and I actually write about it today over at my new

    In any event, you have the makings of a book on novel writing.

  7. from Jacqueline: I agree, Paul - I think I asked Jim a few posts back when the book was coming out. I'd be in line to buy it! And I have to tell you, Jim, Neil Degrasse Tyson is one of my heroes - he signed a book for me to give to my Dad (who loved the stars and anything to do with space), and his inscription was just so perfect, so lovely - Dad cherished that book! Nothing to do with writing though, but I enjoyed the point about Paul changing the character's name. Great Post Our Jim!