This week at my primary blog, A Christian Worldview of Fiction, I wrote several posts about “fresh” fiction. I started out thinking of the subject primarily from the view of the story premise, but soon realized there was a lot more to writing fresh fiction than coming up with a fresh approach.
One thing I didn’t tackle, however, was fresh language, but that is at the micro level of writing.
The obvious first step is to avoid using cliches. Author and editor (Harvest House) Nick Harrison wrote a blog post a month or so ago about cliched character mannerisms in which he gave a list of the ones he finds particularly trite. Author Sharon Souza, blogging at Novel Matters, also addressed the issue of cliches in writing.
But I suggest, fresh writing is more than avoiding hackneyed expressions. Bread that isn’t moldy still might not be oven-fresh, and when it comes to writing, oven-fresh should be the goal.
A caution, however. “Oven fresh” does not come about by loading sentences with vocabulary that only a spelling bee contestant has heard of.
Rather, it is a twist of phrase, an unusual detail, a term perfectly fit to a particular character. Here are a few examples from Wayfarer (Rebel in the UK) by R. J. Anderson.
In the glare of the streetlamp Veronica’s hair was pale as tallow, her skin the color of ashes.
Notice the phrases “pale as tallow” and “skin the color of ashes.” Both are more interesting than her hair was yellow, her skin, gray.
Here’s another one.
Beyond the cracked window the sky was still dark, the streetlights glowing eerily through a haze of mist. He felt dislocated, as though he had wakened on some alien planet.
The word that captured my attention here was “dislocated.” Usually we think of a joint being dislocated, but an entire person? It was a powerful word to communicate what this character experienced.
Knife burst through the gate into the front garden, swung up her rifle, and fired.
It was a spectacular shot. Black feathers exploded into the sky, and the lead raven shrieked and straggled downward.
Here there were a couple amazing verbs. The first was “exploded” in connection with feathers. What a perfect image that created. The second was “straggled” to show the way the bird moved toward the earth. With that one word, the reader gets a picture and knows the bird isn’t dead, without having to be told.
So I guess that sums up fresh writing: it creates images and frees the author from telling the reader what’s going on.