Don’t you just love a great writer’s use of language? The things that make up voice and style; from the most minimalist prose of say, a Hemingway, to that surfeiting sort of opulent writing of a Pat Conroy, to the inimical magic of Cormac McCarthy. And can’t you pick it out just about anywhere, the sounds and cadence and flow putting your mind immediately into sync with a great author?
Language usage changes from what’s in vogue, with new words and made-up ones and trendy slang. But the great writers make it all their own, no matter in what time or place they practice their craft. And all of it just tweaks me.
Try the beginnings of Richard Ford’s newest, Canada: “Our parents were the least likely two people in the world to rob a bank . . . although, of course, that kind of thinking became null and void the moment they did rob a bank.” Okay, I’m in. Not just from the pregnant implications but the way in which Ford’s accessible prose draws me into the narrator’s world.
My breath always stops a bit when I read: “I grew up slowly beside the tides and marshes of Colleton . . . I was born and raised on a Carolina seas island and I carried the sunshine of the low-country, inked in dark gold, on my back and shoulders,” from Pat Conroy’s The Prince of Tides. Although some critics describe his language as ostentatious, I never get that feeling, even when he zeros in on the deepest of emotions, which in themselves call for a reaching ache that some folks find too much. But he makes my heart sing, especially in this passage from My Reading Life: “My mother hungered for art, for illumination, some path to lead her to a shining way to call her own. She lit signal flares in the hills for her son to feel and follow. I tremble with gratitude as I honor her name.”
Can’t you just feel it?
The way a writer hooks words together is in large part her style, her signature, the thing that sets her off from all others writing at the time and hopefully, into perpetuity. One’s way with the language, whether timorous or bold, sets the tone for a story that is hopefully carried throughout. And oft-times that use of language changes from book to book, all in the service of the story and characters, but still and yet you find echoes of the same.
Cormac McCarthy’s stories run the gamut of plots through his always Literary works, but you can always ascertain his touch whether you love or hate him. There are differences in his language usage from The Border Trilogy to No Country for Old Men to The Road, each book having a sharp focus uniquely its own. Sometimes when I read him I must simply stop, my heart catching in a place I didn’t know existed deep within, and pay homage with gratitude that such words exist. Such a passage causes this from The Crossing: “They were running on the plain harrying the antelope and the antelope moved like phantoms in the snow and circled and wheeled and the dry powder blew about them in the cold moonlight and their breath smoked palely in the cold as if they burned with some inner fire and the wolves twisted and turned and leapt in the silence such that they seemed of another world entirely.”
Do you have a certain sound to your language when you write? Something your reader can “hear” in the prose and recognize as being from you? Something that sets your own heart ablaze when you re-read it for the fiftieth time? If so—send it to me. There is very little in this world I love more than great writing.
Award-winning author and editor Susan Mary Malone has four traditionally published books to her credit (fiction and nonfiction) and many published short stories. A freelance editor, forty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to traditional publishers. You can see more about her, and what authors say about working with her, at: www.maloneeditorial.com