Book Beat Babes

Book Beat Babes

Thursday, June 11, 2015

What is Real Writing? by DL Larson

I'm in the middle of reading two books. Neither has held my attention for long and for that I'm disappointed. The first one, "While Beauty Slept," by Elizabeth Blackwell intrigued me because it is supposedly a retelling of the Sleeping Beauty story. It is not. But it is a telling type of story, which is where I find my biggest frustration with the book. It's tell, tell, tell, tell, tell, with a bit of dialogue, smidge of action and then back to tell, tell, tell.

My next frustration is the retelling is supposed to be to a child, but it is not a juvenile topic, or told in a child-like way that should hold some excitement. I'm a children's librarian. I'm a writer. I want characters I can care about. I continue to page ahead, looking for a break. I'm not involved with the characters and am disappointed because I thought I was immersing myself into a new twist on an old fairytale. While Ms. Blackwell has beautiful writing, it's doesn't engage me, the reader, on a level I was hoping for. It's almost too sanitary. Does that make sense to anyone?

The second book I'm reading is called, "Hell for Leather," by Julie Ann Walker. She is a NYT best seller and I was excited to read her next book in Black Knights Inc. romantic suspense series. This is a contemporary setting, action packed, with great characters. I became involved immediately, but have grown tired of the sidebar mutterings each character continues to display. They talk to themselves mentally. At first it was cute, then okay, let's move on, then, really? These snippets irritated me and I didn't understand why. I really enjoyed her writing. I finally realized these little thoughts pulled me out of the story, they were not enhancing the story for me. Rather than clarifying the character's inner reflections, they had become intrusive to me.

So here I am with two books, one too clean and the other with editing issues. These authors are great writers, please understand that. But for me, this summer, they were not the books that will make me say, "I'm putting that on the shelf to read again."

All this makes me wonder who were the official editors? How much was changed? And did they improve the story line or not from the author's original version? Did they clean up "While Beauty Slept" until it was squeaky clean and bone dry? Did they italicize one too many lines in "Hell for Leather," thinking this is a new fad and readers will love it?  This is a fear many writers think about. Editing generally improves the story, but sometimes ... it scalpel reaches too deep.

I remember a night class I took years ago. It was a creative writing class and I found out the instructor edited with a heavy hand. There were about ten of us in the class and we sat around in a circle to talk about our WIP. Each week we would turn in an assignment and the following week we would receive the one we had previously turned in. At first no one said anything, thinking they were the only one that had severe changes made on their work.

One week my paper was returned with ideas on how to make my poem more vivid. But it wasn't a poem about images. It was a poem on bribery and simply making it through the day. The instructor had missed the point. He suggested I clarify more, create a clearer sense, etc. As I read his ideas scribbled on the paper the gal next to me, said, "You didn't understand her poem." I looked up and realized she meant my poem. I still think she couldn't bring herself to argue with the instructor about her own work, but she went to bat for my work. I did not know this woman other than to chat a bit before and after class.

She went on, saying, "It doesn't matter what color the kid's mittens are, he knows. And it doesn't matter what treat she offers, she wants him to behave! She's a mom, she's trying to get where she needs to go."
The dam broke and many others learned that day to defend their work. I don't know if that was the instructor's point all along or not. He didn't get upset and real discussion began from that brave woman stepping up to defend my very inadequate poem. The next several weeks, real learning took place.

So what is real writing? I learned it is something to defend when needed, and to always search for the true message in every sentence. Is it fluff? Or is it necessary? Only the author knows.

Til next time ~


OK - Here's the poem - please understand it's dated January 1985 - I was young, very, very, very young! And soon realized, a poet, I am not! But I still enjoyed trying.


Listen to me - I'm talking to you.
Where are your mittens?
Let's go you two.

Climb into your seat, buckle up snug,
You know the way -
Give it a tug.

Appointments can't wait,
Race through downtown
Smile at the cop - better slow down.

It won't be long now.
No, you can't drive.
Sit still Jessica, take a look outside.

Everyone pile out,
Stand still, take my hand.
No, don't do that - listen to me, young man!

Hurry now, Momma is late.
I wish we could too, maybe tomorrow
But I can't promise you.

Keep your hood up,
Don't run in the street.
Promise to be good, and I'll give you a treat!


  1. Lately, it's hard to find books I really like. Maybe because I've read so many by now. Maybe it's because I know too much about writing, and it's easy for me to find the mistakes. Yes, I hate books with too much narrative and backstory. I do like lots of dialogue.

  2. I agree! I hear this a lot at the library. I wrote this article, not to be critical, but to open the eyes of writers. We MUST defend our work. Improvements are wonderful and I applaud those who can edit with a light touch. The writers I mentioned are GREAT writers and I wish them great success! But at the same time, there is something to be learned as a writer with every book we read. Thanks for stopping by!