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Piles of Poetic Jello February 25, 2016

Posted by nrhatch in Books & Movies, Word Play, Writing & Writers.

170px-alice_par_john_tenniel_30Wading through descriptive prose that sounds poetic but makes no sense is like trying to climb over a pile of jello.

It’s rarely worth the effort.

When poetic prose adds depth without detracting from the story line, a lilting flow is relaxing and peaceful.

In contrast, when writing causes readers to get mired down deciphering images that make no sense, it’s just nonsense.

And it’s distracting.

Mainspring_wind-up_keysBy way of example:

“I am hypnotized by keys, thick fistfuls of them, I can taste their acid galvanization, more precious than wisdom.”

~ White Oleander, Janet Finch


When writing detracts from my enjoyment of a book, I ask myself whether I should forge ahead through the dreck . . . to see if the unseen destination is worth the trek.

The answer is almost always:  Nah!

Aah . . . that’s better!

Related post:  Dress It Up (El Space)


1. Hariod Brawn - February 25, 2016

Too true. Ian McEwan gets the balance right for me every time – acute, imaginative, yet always enriching the narrative meaningfully.

nrhatch - February 25, 2016

I’ve only read one of his books ~ Atonement. I didn’t care for the pace of the plot but I don’t recall stumbling over his words every few meters like I did with Ms. Finch. :mrgreen:

Do you have a favorite by him? Something with a plot that sizzles?

Hariod Brawn - February 25, 2016

He doesn’t really do ‘sizzling’ Nancy. On Chesil Beach is a wonderful little novella, and crackles with undercurrents of repressed sexuality (very British!), along with a liminally understated but scalpel-sharp wit. Atonement is considered his foremost work, as you will know, but having recently read Saturday, amongst others, then his style shouldn’t be judged by that which he’s best known for in my opinion.

nrhatch - February 25, 2016

Thanks, Hariod. I may give him another go at some point if I bump into another of his books while scanning the stacks.

2. BunKaryudo - February 25, 2016

Sorry I didn’t respond to this post faster. I dozed off for a couple of minutes at the part about galvanization.

nrhatch - February 25, 2016

I can’t fault you for that, Bun. That excerpt doesn’t galvanize the reader in me either.

3. Jill Weatherholt - February 25, 2016

I’m with you on the “Nah,” Nancy. I think many of us don’t have time for the poetic prose.

nrhatch - February 25, 2016

And if we have the time, we are lacking the inclination. 😛

4. Under the Oaks - February 25, 2016

No poetic prose… and I started to giggle at galvanization.

nrhatch - February 25, 2016

I adore stumbling into “hidden gems” while reading . . . a unique turn of phrase that begs to be reread. But Ms. Finch made me laugh out loud for all the wrong reasons.

I doubt even she knew what she was trying to say.

5. Kate @ Did That Just Happen? - February 25, 2016

I’m the same way, when I find myself skipping not just words and sentences, but entire sections, that’s when I know it’s time to just put it down and walk away! 🙂

nrhatch - February 25, 2016

When I was younger, I finished every book. Ever the optimist, I would keep turning pages, certain I’d find “a pony” around the next bend . . . after wading through so many piles of manure. 🙄

But, after several disappointing finishes, with no payoff for the time I’d invested, I gave myself permission to set aside books that were “full of shit.” 😛

Kate @ Did That Just Happen? - February 25, 2016

LOL – Nice way to wrap that up!! I’m giggling even while nodding in total agreement!

nrhatch - February 25, 2016

Thanks for appreciating my indelicate turn of phrase. :mrgreen:

6. Kate Crimmins - February 25, 2016

I am notorious for skimming. I love a good description that is unusual. It has to be concise though and somehow make sense or I’m at the back of the book looking for the ending.

nrhatch - February 25, 2016

If I stop enjoying a book and wonder whether to keep going, I check out the reviews. If others have complaints similar to mine and are bemoaning the time expenditure, I flip to the last chapter to see how the story ends.

On RARE occasion, I am intrigued enough with the ending to go back and see how the author got to “The End.” But not often.

Most times, I flip to the back of the book, read the ending, and toss the book aside without another glance.

7. L. Marie - February 25, 2016

I’ve walked away from some well written books, simply because I couldn’t get into the stories. It’s like the authors were writing for the awards the books would be nominated for. 😦

nrhatch - February 25, 2016

I’m not sure which I find more disappointing:

* A terrific plot with plodding writing, or
* A plodding plot with terrific writing.

One needs to find both to be drawn in.

L. Marie - February 25, 2016

Thanks for the shout out. 🙂

nrhatch - February 26, 2016

Thanks for inspiring this post!

8. JOriginal Muse - February 25, 2016

I hear ya, Nancy..!
Blech ! Makes me wanna…
Belch ! 😉

nrhatch - February 25, 2016

Words are such fun ~> from “blech” to “belch” in a single bound!

9. Val Boyko - February 25, 2016

Great topic Nancy! One that captures the sensory manifestation of inner dialogic beliefs and preferences. 💛

nrhatch - February 25, 2016

That’s it, Val ~> preferences are the KEY to the wisdom within (which is far more precious than a fistful of galvanized metal). 😛

10. Carol Ferenc - February 25, 2016

Huh? What was she talking about? I love beautiful, descriptive prose but it’s got to make sense! I’m with you on that, Nancy.

nrhatch - February 25, 2016

Yes. Lyrical nonsense belongs in poems to ponder (e.g., The Jabberwocky) not tossed about in the middle of a novel for readers to trip over. 🙄

Carol Ferenc - February 26, 2016

I think, in the middle of a novel, it’s a big turn off for most readers.

nrhatch - February 26, 2016

I expect that readers who care more about the prose than the plot of the characters are “OK” with meandering lyricism. I’m happier when a story moves forward (rather than in circles).

11. Ally Bean - February 25, 2016

Weirdly enough, this is the second time today that I’ve talked about how I’ve given myself permission to not finish a novel if I’m not grooving on it. At one point in my life I never would have done that, but now I’ve adopted a more devil-may-care attitude to reading. So I’m right there with you on Team Nah!

nrhatch - February 25, 2016

Go Team! 😀

I’m more inclined to stick with a “bad” movie to the bitter end since the time investment is less than when reading 300-400 pages in a novel I’m not digging.

12. jannatwrites - February 25, 2016

I agree. I like it when I have the opportunity to open the book and read a couple paragraphs before I buy it. I don’t really enjoy feeling clueless either…. and I have no idea what she meant in that example 🙂

nrhatch - February 25, 2016

When I don’t get what an author is trying to convey on first reading, I’ll try, try again. But my patience has its limits. If I get to the point where I no longer feel I’m going to be rewarded for my time, I toss the tome aside.

In this case, after 50 pages, I closed the cover on Ms. Finch ~> she can have her keys and taste them too! 😛

jannatwrites - February 25, 2016

That book title sounded familiar so I checked my bookcase- I have it but haven’t read it. One of these years I’ll see if I can get past 50 pages 🙂

nrhatch - February 26, 2016

Good luck!

13. Tiny - February 25, 2016

I so agree. When I don’t get it at the first read, it’s no jello for me.

nrhatch - February 26, 2016

Exactly. Why waste time with books that are a waste of time.

Hope you are healing, Helen. I’m sure the house seems far too quiet without your buddy Bumble.

14. suzicate - February 26, 2016

That line bleh, but the first lines WOW. Janet Fitch’s White Oleander, “The Santa Anas blew hot from the desert, shriveling the last of the spring grass into whiskers of pale straw. Only the oleanders thrived, their delicate poisonous blooms, their dagger green leaves.” Starting a book with weather usually doesn’t work, but this does as it sets the tone. Honestly, I’d rather read a good story and save the beautiful prose for poetry. However, used sparingly in a good story with the right characters I don’t mind.

nrhatch - February 26, 2016

I do like that line ~ especially as it puts the title of the book into context. Poetic prose is great when it makes sense and doesn’t act as a stumbling block to communication.

Hope your find warm weather on your doorstep in a day or two!

15. colonialist - February 26, 2016

Agreed. Now, that illustration makes me think of Jabberwocky. ‘Twas brillig and the slithy toves … ‘ There, even with all the made-up words, one still gets a sense of narrative and a feeling that one knows what’s going on. It works.
I think a lot of ‘images’ aren’t that at all – just words randomly stuck together. They rely on people who don’t want to admit being utterly lost praising the work for its depth and richness of expression.

nrhatch - February 26, 2016

Agreed. Some of the praise bandied about brings to mind compliments bestowed on the “Emperor’s New Clothes.”

The Jabberwocky works as a poem, but I wouldn’t trudge through 300 pages of slithy toves no matter how brillig the stars.

colonialist - February 27, 2016

A perfect analogy. Or that heaped on gloopy bits of paint hurled at a canvas from a distance.

nrhatch - February 27, 2016

Like so many monkeys slinging poo. :mrgreen:

16. anotherday2paradise - February 27, 2016

Life is too short to wade through literary jello. 😕

nrhatch - February 27, 2016

That’s my favorite thing about reading ~ the complete and utter autonomy to choose whether to remain in an author’s audience or turn to other words and other worlds.

17. Debra - February 28, 2016

I’m not too sensitive in this area, I don’t think. Sometimes I even enjoy heavily written passages simply for the sake of finding it perplexing! But I would agree with you entirely that if it becomes too distracting than it isn’t the best writing. And if I’m not enjoying the book, I do put it aside!

nrhatch - February 28, 2016

You have mastered the “maybe mind” for reading ~> accepting the “what is” as it is, sans judgment. 😀

I’m not there yet. I want to be able to decipher what I’m reading without having to hire a translator. If an author and I aren’t on the same wave length, I close the book without regret.

18. livelytwist - March 1, 2016

Oh oh @acid galvanization!

nrhatch - March 1, 2016

“. . . more precious than wisdom.” 😛

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