Tag Archives: WHITE OLEANDER

Monday Craft Tips #13: An example of how NOT to write prose

Recently, I talked about two very talented writers, Janet Fitch and Juliet Marillier who both write engaging prose that reflect the content of their novels. Ms. Fitch’s prose in WHITE OLEANDER, set in contemporary LA, was suitably hard and edgy. Ms. Marillier’s prose in SON OF SHADOWS, set in 9th-century Ireland, was gorgeous and poetic.

But I’ve also recently read prose that just doesn’t work. And I wanted to show you an example of what I mean. This excerpt comes from Suzanne Weyn’s THE NIGHT DANCE, a re-telling of THE TWELVE DANCING PRINCESSES to which she has added elements of the Arthurian legend of The Lady of the Lake. I thought her retelling of this Grimm’s fairy tale was one of the most interesting versions (and I’ve read several of them recently.) But she really disappointed me with the ending, which seemed rushed, mainly because the quality of the writing was far below that of the rest of the novel. Read the passage below, which comes from the end of the novel, and bear in mind that it is supposed to be set in 5th-century England. I quote:

 

At the end of the wedding party, Sir Ethan announced that he would be leaving with Vivienne, though they most certainly would be in touch. Any of the girls who wanted to come with them and study mystical ways were welcome…Gwendolyn, Helewise, Chloe, Isolde and Mathilde thought life on Avalon sounded exciting, though.

“Could Ione, Brianna, Bronwyn, Cecily and I stay here at the manor?” asked Ashlynn…we’d like to turn the place into an inn.”

There was a murmur of approval as this seemed like it would be a fun enterprise.

 

I cringe at expressions such as “would be in touch” “were welcome” “sounded exciting” and “seemed like it would be a fun enterprise.” It seems so insensitive to write Valley Girl or even modern British slang when you’re supposed to be conveying what 5th-century England would feel like.

A lesson in how NOT to write, when you do an historical novel!

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Monday Craft Tips #12: Two examples of great prose style to inspire you!

I’ve just finished reading Janet Fitch’s WHITE OLEANDER and have just embarked on Juliet Marillier’s SON OF SHADOWS. Both books are great reads, even though they are very different in tone. But what makes them both so enjoyable is that the prose style is so great.
For example, Janet Fitch uses metaphors and similes to great effect.

“What was the best day of your life?” she asked me one afternoon as we lay on the free-form couch, her head on one armrest, mine on the other. Judy Garland sang on the stereo, “My Funny Valentine.”
“Today,” I said.
“No.” She laughed, throwing her napkin at me. “From before.”
I tried to remember, but it was like looking for buried coins in the sand. I kept turning things over, cutting myself on rusty cans, broken beer bottles hidden there, but eventually I found an old coin, brushed it off. I could read the date, the country of origin.
It was when we were living in Amsterdam.”

And Juliet Marillier uses words to evoke a long-ago past where people lived closer to the ghosts of their ancestors.

“That spring we had visitors. Here in the heart of the great forest, the old ways were strong despite the communities of men and women that now spread over our land, their Christian crosses stark symbols of a new faith. From time to time, travelers would bring across the sea tales of great ills done to folk who dared keep the old traditions. There were cruel penalties, even death, for those who left an offering maybe, for the harvest gods or thought to weave a simple spell for good fortune or use a potion to bring back a faithless sweetheart. The druids were all slain or banished over there.”

I hope that reading these authors will inspire all of us to write more poetically!

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How to write glorious prose. NOT

Recently, I talked about two very talented writers, Janet Fitch and Juliet Marillier who both write engaging prose that reflect the content of their novels. Ms. Fitch’s prose in WHITE OLEANDER, set in contemporary LA, was suitably hard and edgy. Ms. Marillier’s prose in SON OF SHADOWS, set in 9th-century Ireland, was gorgeous and poetic.

But I’ve also recently read prose that just doesn’t work. And I wanted to show you an example of what I mean. This excerpt comes from Suzanne Weyn’s THE NIGHT DANCE, a re-telling of THE TWELVE DANCING PRINCESSES to which she has added elements of the Arthurian legend of The Lady of the Lake. I thought her retelling of this Grimm’s fairy tale was one of the most interesting versions (and I’ve read several of them recently.) But she really disappointed me with the ending, which seemed rushed, mainly because the quality of the writing was far below that of the rest of the novel. Read the passage below, which comes from the end of the novel, and bear in mind that it is supposed to be set in 5th-century England. I quote:

 

At the end of the wedding party, Sir Ethan announced that he would be leaving with Vivienne, though they most certainly would be in touch. Any of the girls who wanted to come with them and study mystical ways were welcome…Gwendolyn, Helewise, Chloe, Isolde and Mathilde thought life on Avalon sounded exciting, though.

“Could Ione, Brianna, Bronwyn, Cecily and I stay here at the manor?” asked Ashlynn…we’d like to turn the place into an inn.”

There was a murmur of approval as this seemed like it would be a fun enterprise.

 

I cringe at expressions such as “would be in touch” “were welcome” “sounded exciting” and “seemed like it would be a fun enterprise.” It seems so insensitive to write Valley Girl or even modern British slang when you’re supposed to be conveying what 5th-century England would feel like.

A lesson in how NOT to write, when you do an historical novel!

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WHITE OLEANDER by Janet Fitch

WHITE OLEANDER is the kind of novel that agents still talk about, over ten years after it was published in 1999. As I was curious to see what they were talking about, I recently read it.

The agents were right. This is an amazing novel, not just for the outrageous but believable character of Ingrid Magnusson and her daughter Astrid, not just for the amazing plot twists and turns, but for the amazing prose style.

 

 “What was the best day of your life?” she asked me one afternoon as we lay on the free-form couch, her head on one armrest, min on the other. Judy Garland sang on the stereo, “My Funny Valentine.”

“Today,” I said.

“No.” She laughed, throwing her napkin at me. “From before.”

I tried to remember, but it was like looking for buried coins in the sand. I kept turning things over, cutting myself on rusty cans, broken beer bottles hidden there, but eventually I found an old coin, brushed it off. I could read the date, the country of origin.

It was when we were living in Amsterdam.”

 

What a great use of metaphor and simile. Here is another example.

 

And now it was too late. I looked at Sergei across the table in Rena’s kitchen. He could care less about my boyfriend in New York. He didn’t even care about his girlfriend in the next room. He was just like one of Rena’s white cats – eat, sleep, and fornicate. Since the night I’d seen them together on the couch, he was always watching me with his hint of a grin, as if there were some secret we shared.

“So how is your boyfriend?” he asked. “Big? Is he big?”

Niki laughed. “He’s huge, Sergei. Haven’t you heard of him? Moby Dick.”

Olivia had told me all about men like Sergei. Hard men with blue veins in their sculpted white arms, heavy-lidded blue eyes and narrow waists. You could make a deal with a man like that. A man who knew what he wanted. I kept my eyes on the broccoli and cheese.

“You get tired of waiting,” he said. “You come see me.”

“What if you’re no good?” I said, making the other girls laugh.

“Only worry you fall in love Sergei,” he said, his voice like a hand between my legs.

 

What’s not to like about this book? The ending. I really didn’t like it. I didn’t like being left with two choices, two ways that this heartbreaking story might go. I thought that the author should have done that hard work for me. Four stars.

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Monday Tips: How to write glorious prose

I’ve just finished reading Janet Fitch’s WHITE OLEANDER and have just embarked on Juliet Marillier’s SON OF SHADOWS. Both books are great reads, even though they are very different in tone. But what makes them both so enjoyable is that the prose style is so great.
For example, Janet Fitch uses metaphors and similes to great effect.

“What was the best day of your life?” she asked me one afternoon as we lay on the free-form couch, her head on one armrest, mine on the other. Judy Garland sang on the stereo, “My Funny Valentine.”
“Today,” I said.
“No.” She laughed, throwing her napkin at me. “From before.”
I tried to remember, but it was like looking for buried coins in the sand. I kept turning things over, cutting myself on rusty cans, broken beer bottles hidden there, but eventually I found an old coin, brushed it off. I could read the date, the country of origin.
It was when we were living in Amsterdam.”

And Juliet Marillier uses words to evoke a long-ago past where people lived closer to the ghosts of their ancestors.

“That spring we had visitors. Here in the heart of the great forest, the old ways were strong despite the communities of men and women that now spread over our land, their Christian crosses stark symbols of a new faith. From time to time, travelers would bring across the sea tales of great ills done to folk who dared keep the old traditions. There were cruel penalties, even death, for those who left an offering maybe, for the harvest gods or thought to weave a simple spell for good fortune or use a potion to bring back a faithless sweetheart. The druids were all slain or banished over there.”

I hope that reading these authors will inspire all of us to write more poetically!

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