The other day I read an article about the difference between “literary” fiction and “commercial” fiction. The main gist of it was how there was a school of thought– from the “literary” side of things– that “good” writing would make the reader work for it. That a proper literary book (or possibly, a proper book period) was one in which the reader was going to have to roll up their sleeves and dig their way through it. But it’ll be worth it, because the writing itself– the craft of it– is so exquisite that it doesn’t even matter if you don’t know what’s going on.
I’m exaggerating for effect, but I’m less of a fan of the literary– or rather, the “literary” style. I’m a fan of clean prose, with style that’s smooth, dynamic and well-paced. I like to think that’s what I do (though you can be the judge), though perhaps leaning towards the more pulpy side. Tell me a story well, with writing that impresses me by not trying to impress me, and I’m pretty happy.
But that does mean beating out certain bad-writing lessons one learns. Lord knows what I wrote in high school and college was attempting to wow and amaze with the cleverness of my prose. (When I wasn’t, say, blatantly copying Hitchhiker’s Guide or something.) However, on some level, that literary style was strongly encouraged by my teachers. And, to an extent, that’s got to be shoved to the side in favor of clean writing.
I’m not a fan of reaching for the dictionary in the process of writing. Or the thesaurus. That was one lesson I learned after a while: if I’m digging for a synonym purely for the sake of synonym, I’m probably doing something wrong. Because for one, it’s likely I’m muddying something up instead of staying clear– avoiding word repetition no matter what just because my 7th grade English teacher said I should. For another, my attempt to come up with a clever sounding synonym might just plain be the wrong word.
And that’s never clever writing.