Layering the Prose
By Will Greenway
Layers are the answer.
They solve the issues of prose that is appealing to the ear, efficient, and evocative.
Take each paragraph of the work and give it the following evaluation: What is its purpose? Does it fulfill that objective? What elements or aspects are being developed and do they progress? The most key, can it be done in fewer words?
How do you make fewer words accomplish more work?
The trick is to think of the prose more like a director directing a movie. You can give a flat description of something—which is much like aiming a camera straight at something and taking a snapshot. The alternative is to focus on a character moving through the area. The second approach does three things at once: it describes an area, introduces a character, and introduces some kind of activity into the narrative.
If you consider every scene in this way, you can combine multiple objectives into each paragraph—or each sentence with careful crafting.
Descriptions and inner narrative are the areas that most often suffer from word bloat.
Concentrate—distill the essence into a concise picture. Use characters, action, thought, and dialogue together to convey a picture. Visuals alone don't do a scene justice. Using sensory appeal (smells, feelings, internal registers) and few sparse coordinating details is far more effective at conveying a sense of place and “being there.”
Close character viewpoint, and internal registers are two mechanisms for focusing your prose in a powerful way. The declarative form of third person limited point-of-view is both active and evocative. Omniscient viewpoints wander: They have a tendency to concern themselves with superfluous detail.
If we are close in a character, we are concerned with what the protagonist is concerned with. If your story is structured right, something in the world is challenging that person, and that person's attention is on meeting that challenge. If authors concentrate their energy on the narrative conflict there is little that can go wrong.
Remember the hook. It is a source of inertia. Make it prevalent in everything you do. This is a simple mechanism. At the beginning, offer up an evocative image (or the promise of one), deliver on it, and then (at the tail) promise a new one. Keep your promises and you'll keep your readers. Energy will be sustained and the work will be strong throughout.
What about back-story? Don’t worry. Just cut it. Pair the story down to its purest most energetic form in the early drafts. As you tighten and refine, you can add foreshadowing and back-story elements if in retrospect they appear to be needed.
Give your writing the punch and polish it deserves.
Will Greenway, of Spring Valley, California, has written five novels, more than a dozen short stories, and a slew of articles on both the craft of writing and the writing lifestyle (used as source material in four university writing programs).