Hiya everyone and please welcome Kelly Harmon as a guest blogger today. I would personally like to congratulate her on the release of her book "Blood Soup"
Feel free to drop a comment or two to ask questions or just say hi :)
Without further ado, here's Kelly as she writes about Writing for Today's Reader
I’m a huge fan of Tolkien, loved reading The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings books as a teen, but I’ve long maintained that Tolkien would fail to get published if he attempted to do so today. What appealed to readers a decade or more ago, doesn’t apply to today’s reader.
(We don’t hold on to old technology...so why should we continue to read antiquated styles?)
In my opinion, Tolkien wrote a plodding history filled with exposition. He failed to get to the action fast enough, and used way too many words (these statements, I’m certain, rub a few readers the wrong way...apologies!) But, here’s an example:
In The Hobbit, Tolkien describes Bilbo Baggins home:
“It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle. The door opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel; a very comfortable tunnel without smoke, with panelled walls, and floors tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs, and lots and lots of pegs for hats and coats–the hobbit was fond of visitors. The tunnel wound on and on, going fairly but not quite straight into the side of a hill–and many little round doors opened out of it...”
This goes on for quite some length.
I don’t have the time anymore to sit through pages and pages of such description. Do you? If you’re like me, you’re racing to work, picking up the kids, taking them to soccer practice, flying off to your own meetings, etc. Life is fast-paced.
So...what could Tolkien have done to appeal to modern readers?
1) He could have stepped up the pace by cutting out long descriptions and given us (mostly) the key information. A paragraph or two, three at most, would have sufficed as an introduction to Baggins and his home, then Tolkien should have gotten on with the story.
Other things he could have done: used shorter sentences to make the work read faster. Broken large paragraphs into smaller ones to visually appeal to the eye and create a sense of motion; and tightened his prose into shorter scenes.
2) Tolkien could have started with action. People enjoy thrills and danger...why else are police shows so popular on TV? 24, Law & Order, and The First 48 have us on the edge of our seat. We also like our adrenaline rushes: bungee jumping, roller coasters and free-fall rides, etc.
Tolkien does offer lots of thrills and excitement...but twenty pages into The Hobbit and Bilbo is turning down Gandolf’s adventure. Turning him down! And we suffer through ten more pages of a dinner party at his home. It’s not until Chapter Two, nearly fifty pages in, that Bilbo actually gets moving on his quest.
Most readers today want to see the action in the first few pages, if not on page one. Action drops you right into the story.
3) Tolkien could have stepped up the emotion, made us care more about the characters by showing us–not telling us– how events affected them.
We love our reality TV...couples fighting, battling weight, vying for marriage, singing their hearts out. We can’t help but become emotionally attached as we watch others’ lives unfolding before us. And we find ourselves aligned for this couple, rooting for that singer, hoping that marriage doesn’t break up over a slice of pie as the shows unfold. We care.
I’m not saying we don’t care for Tolkien’s characters, we do; but I know for me, it’s a mild sort of caring. I need more in order to relate.
Hobbits love to take a bath: they sing many-versed songs about it. But I’d rather have seen Bilbo sinking into a hot tub of water and sighing blissfully over the joy of it than endure his ten-verse song written into the prose.
In the Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo is awakened by Merry at 4 a.m., making a clattering noise in order to get his attention. That would tick me off. How about you? Yet Frodo gets up without complaint and starts moving. Tolkien could have done so much with this scene.
For me, an author succeeds at making me emotionally attached if I’m crying at the end of a romance, or dreading the final battle scene, or hurt (and angry!) that someone got killed off.
Today’s author should strive to hijack the reader’s emotions as he relates the story.
Postscript: Please don’t hate me for picking on Tolkien! He’s only one example. I could find examples in many author’s books, including some of my favorites and by several authors of classics (who wrote when time wasn’t so precious to us now).
A tale of murder, betrayal and comeuppance.
King Theodicar of Borgund needed an heir. When his wife, Queen Piacenza, became pregnant, he’d hoped for a boy. His wife, along with her nurse, Salvagia, knew it wouldn’t be so: with each cast of the runes, Salvagia’s trusted divination tools yielded the same message: “A girl child must rule or the kingdom will fall to ruin.” The women were convinced that the child would be a girl.
When the queen finally gives birth, the nurse and the king are equally surprised. The king is faced with a terrible choice, and his decision will determine the fate of his kingdom. Will he choose wisely, or will he doom Borgund to ruin?