Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Well-turned Phrases by Andy Scheer

Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.” —George Orwell

I've considered that advice this past week as I've been reformatting some curriculum for the writer's group I work for part time.

In a lesson on writing style, the course advises:
Good writers try to get out of the way of their own messages. They don't try to impress with beautiful words, nice turns of phrase, or fancy sentences that draw attention to their writing ability. … If a sentence draws attention to itself or to the writer, it has to go.”

Kill your darlings,” Stephen King says, “kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler's heart, kill your darlings.”

It's a fine balance—avoiding cliched expressions and finding fresh metaphors that communicate powerfully, but also subtly. This past week I've been re-reading Stephen King's massive novel 11/22/63—taking the time to appreciate some of the nuances of his craft.

Here are some of his well-turned phrases I discovered on my second reading:
In small towns certain names seem to sprout like dandelions on a lawn in June. (p 126)
. . . ordered a shore dinner, which came with clams and a lobster roughly the size of an outboard motor. (pp 126-127)
. . . the color of water beneath a sky from which snow will soon fall. (p 152)
. . . flooded the room with enough fluorescent light to take out an appendix by. (p241)
. . . the fall colors began to bloom—first timid yellow, then orange, then blazing strumpet red as autumn burned away another Maine summer. (p 270)
. . . long autumn afternoons, most hazy and warm. Dusty gilded light slanting down through the trees. At light, a quiet so vast it seemed almost to reverberate. (p 270)
. . . staring . . . with his mouth slightly hung open. It was the expression of a farmer who sees dinosaurs cropping grass in his north forty. (p 325)
It was more than a smile; his face was transformed with the happiness that's reserved for those who are finally allowed to reach all the way up. (p 328)

These phrases must not have been his darlings, for which I'm grateful. They're certainly not ones I'm used to seeing in print—or especially in anyone's first draft.


Heather Day Gilbert said...

I haven't read any Stephen King (thought he was strictly horror), so I'm impressed by his poetic language. I like the dinosaur sentence. And the dandelion one. You're so right, though--you don't want a phrase that will jar the reader from the flow of the book.

Andy Scheer, Hartline Literary said...

Other than his great book on the craft of writing, this is the first of his titles for me also.

Rick Barry said...

This is a fun post. I’m hereby vowing to avoid all clichéd expressions like the plague.

Andy Scheer, Hartline Literary said...

Once those phrases were fresh as a daisy, but now they're old hat.

sally apokedak said...

Wow! Those are great. I've never read anything of his but On Writing, either. I saw Carrie when I was teen and I swore I'd never read one of his books. I hate horror.

But everyone tells me to read The Stand. one of these days I will, I suppose. Those lines of his are very nice.

Andy Scheer, Hartline Literary said...

King's "On Writing" contains one of my favorite comparisons (though it may violate the principle of not calling undue attention to itself): "as perky as a rat in liverwurst."