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Writing Observation: Getting Sneaky


Recently, I got a hold of one the bucket paperbacks I’d been keeping an eye out for over the last few years: The Elementals by Malcolm McDowell. It’s a very good book, I was not at all disappointed, but that’s not the point of this post.

It’s about the beginning and why it worked so damned well… and why most new writers won’t be able to get away with something like this.

It opens with the weather (faux pas, and for most subs I see, a thing on a mental checklist to demand changed if the story makes it through to edits). The story then slides into long, monotonous detail about a church. It then details the suit a man has on and then what a woman has on and it continues describing as if checking a guest list. Now it does have motion whilst describing, so it’s not entirely mind numbing.

Folks are speculating and whispering, talking about the lack of a printed program that might explain the funeral ceremony. They’re complaining about nothing in a rambling old lady whirlwind of banality. It’s a pure snooze fest. It’s so pure that indie writers would probably already see a rejection slip in their inboxes if they did this. It’s so pure, that it becomes near perfect.

As a reader, I was almost asleep in the first four pages as the thing droned on and on, much like this blog post. Ah, but what I don’t have and what Michael McDowell gave his cast of characters was a method.

When the knife came out of the box, held by the nun, and when said knife approached the chest of the figure in the casket, I was absolutely jarred. The tedium arranged this, and the knife-wielding nun kicked me in the head... and man did it work. I went from zero to eyes bugged in about a paragraph. It was nothing short of a masterful and one thing, should I ever become saleable enough to get away with, I’ll try on for size in the future.

If you haven’t read The Elementals, I suggest you get out there and get it, if only to be rocked by the prologue. It's like a fiction-writing lesson for a few bucks.


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