Welcome to my Garden of Words
Do you remember the gardens of yesterday?
I remember fondly those gardens where children were let free to explore, to feed an insatiable imagination until called home for dinner. Gardens full of rich experiences for all the senses: touch, smell, sight, taste and sound. Like many children before me, those gardens have shaped me, nurtured my wild spirit. Allowed me to become a creative being, with a deep respect for nature.
Search most neighbourhoods and you will find that those types of gardens are now rare. The tangled gardens of our childhood have been replaced with minimalistic ‘outdoor rooms’. Lush, overgrown lawns have been replaced with roll-out grass or even fake lawn. Garden beds are more likely to contain dyed wood-chips, with a strategically placed lone-plant. Trees to climb or pick fruit from have mostly disappeared, and in their place are easy-care shrubs. Garden paths are no longer bare-feet friendly, having been replaced with concrete or pebbles. These domestic changes match modern tastes and lifestyles, designed for the shrinking backyard of the time-poor and horticulturally-challenged. Very few people have the time or the inclination to care for a tangled garden any more.
Where have the tangled stories gone?
Long ago, when on the cusp of adolescence, I must confess that I preferred my reading material to be like a tangled garden: full of lush prose, with liberal lashings of adjectives and adverbs. I sometimes even had a tendency to wander off the path and into the nearby forest. Putting aside children’s books at an early age, I devoured the likes of Poe, DH Lawrence and an assortment of Russian authors. As an adult, I moved away from tales of tormented love and long inner-discourses, and entered my southern phase; enjoying literature from southern Europe and South America.
What both these stages in my evolving taste in literature had in common were strong story-lines, rich descriptions, exploration of the protagonists’ inner thoughts, and a poetic use of words. These writers were often tellers of story in the traditional sense. They knew that words were not just there to link one action scene to the next action scene. Their words held magic, each and every long stream of letters had a purpose. The action was secondary in this realm of storytelling. Instead, these writers created a place between white pages where the characters and their deep desires ruled.
Admittedly, when I try to revisit my love for many of these writers and their works, I find that I no longer have the patience to decipher such descriptive works, or an interest in knowing every thought, feeling and secret passion of the protagonist. Like most readers, my reading habits and taste have changed. We have become accustomed to quick grabs of news and information, through increased use of internet and many forms of social media. This has undoubtedly changed the way we read, and what we read. With the rise in popularity of e-books, the average book seems to have shrunk to a size more traditionally known as the novella.
I can’t get no satisfaction in these gardens of concrete
Lately, many books have left me with a rising twinge of disappointment. In both print and e-format, books have changed; the way people write seems to have changed dramatically. How to blogs and books are full of advice for emerging writers, such as: cut out adjectives and adverbs; use just enough words to move the action along; don’t be overly descriptive. In short, how to be frugal with words.
In addition, writers are being encouraged to use basic words. To shun the fancy dinner set, and instead use the every-day crockery. There is good sense in this, but we need to be careful that we don’t move so far in the opposite direction that we no longer challenge readers; let’s not dumb down the reading experience. Complicated, or poetic, prose can serve a valuable purpose. It is the doorway between the physical world and the author-created world within the pages of a book; it transports readers to rarely trodden realms and makes them more receptive to storytelling.
A recent article I read on Indies Unlimited, by Jo at Inknbeans Press, offered some really valuable advice on writing (Credit Steve Revare, author of Raw). While I agree with this type of advice (and I highly recommend you read that post), and I do try to incorporate such techniques in my writing, I can’t help feeling that we are at risk of loosing something precious.
Too many times I read a recently published book and feel like the author is rushing me. Although I am pleased that the use of excessive descriptions have all but disappeared (you know the type: those large chunks that we all skim over), I feel that too many books have become overly heavy on Action. I find these action-packed books so unsatisfying. There seems to be no attempt to lure me into a created world, into the lives of the characters. And when I close most books, no longer do I feel like I have said farewell to treasured friends, no longer do I feel the need to find a quiet place to reflect on the story they have shared with me. There are no lingering thoughts or what ifs, as all ends have been nicely tied up. Reading has become less of a memorable love affair and more of a wham, bam, thank you ma’am experience.
Nurture the garden of your dreams
All is not lost. If it’s heritage vegetables or the aroma of herbs of yesteryear that you crave, and you just can’t find them in the modern shopping centres, then the solution is to grow your own. The same goes for stories. I miss the storytelling of old, and have a growing dissatisfaction with the quickie-stories of today. The solution is simple: I should write the type of books that I would like to read.
I am not so much of a fool to think that this is easier said than done. Just as with gardening, I have to learn a few tricks of the trade if I want a flourishing garden. I need to learn by trial and error; some of my seeds may not sprout, and fragile seedlings may shrivel and die. I may produce some fine-looking fruits, only to discover that they are bitter on the tongue. However, if I persevere, eventually I will be harvesting the flowers and fruits of my garden, and sharing them with others.
Presenting the produce from your garden
The more I write, and the more rules that I master, the more I notice that I am breaking those very same rules. For example, whilst it’s important to trim the fat in the editing stage, I don’t want to cut off so much that my work resembles a tasteless diet-friendly product. I prefer dishing up a healthy, whole-foods story; full of flavour, minus the nasty additives. I quite like adjectives and adverbs, thank you very much, and will add more than a dash to the pot. And while I will show some responsibility, and take in to account the tastes of potential readers, I will unashamedly sprinkle my work with pretty coloured, poetic prose.
The joy of blue ribbons at the fair
Recently I stumbled across a compliment from a fellow writer on Google+. He was conversing with a newly met writer, and suggesting that she circle me. Chaunce Stanton’s introduction was “You may consider adding Karen Wyld. She has a great sense of humor but also conveys strong rich/poetic/sense-experience tendencies….”
(Chaunce Stanton is the author of the newly released Blank Slate House Boarding House for Creatives and the 2012 release Luano’s Luckiest Day).
Whilst Chaunce’s words still make me blush, and I’m not sure how many people I know in ‘real’ life would agree that I even possess a sense of humour, I do feel a connection with his description of my writing style.
How does your garden grow?
Having cut my reader’s teeth on rich poetic works of great writers, of course I will lean towards producing similar works. Even if it means that I am swimming against the tide. If I can close another writer’s book feeling as if novel-writing is becoming a pale ghost of its former self, then perhaps others are feeling a similar desire for more.
As a writer, and a reader, I want my novels to be a garden-of-the-senses. Maybe I no longer need one quite as tangled as those gardens of my youth, but neither do I want an overly manicured modern garden. I would like something in-between. Rich in prose, characters and story but not overly descriptive or action-packed. Just like I yearn for the aromas of the flowers of my past, rather than the fragrance-free ones of today, I long for the return of The Storytellers.
Now, if you will excuse me, I have a garden to tend to. With just a little more sun, water and earth, I will soon have my first published novel to share with you all; harvested tenderly from my not-so-tangled garden of words.