Remember the old Paul Simon son, “(What a) Wonderful World”?
Don’t know much about history,
Don’t know much about biology,
Here’s what I don’t know much about: Writing. (I hear some of you out there saying, “Yes! It’s true, I've read your books.”)
I’m not being falsely self-deprecating or flippant. I really have little knowledge about the rules and structure of writing as well as grammar. (I have Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, but I haven’t gotten around to reading it quite yet.)
I do know what a noun is. I know what a verb is. I know that an adverb is an l-y word. That’s the extent of my knowledge. Truly.
I have no clue what “conjugate a verb” means. (It was hugely freeing when I read Stephen King's stellar book, On Writing, where he says not to worry about all the rules; that if you read a lot you've probably picked up on most of the “rules” by osmosis.)
So what I’m going to state in the next few paragraphs is definitely more of a question for you—and my uneducated opinion—than a suggestion on how you should write.
I continue to read traditionally published books where I think the novelist is wasting words and keeping the reader from going deeper into the POV of the protagonist. Here’s what I mean:
I frequently see sentences such as this: “He could hear the elephants stomp through the forest”
Wouldn't it be tighter writing to say, “He heard the elephants stomp through the forest.”?
Wouldn't it be even tighter and more intimate to say, “The elephants stomped through the forest.”?
If we’re in this character’s head, why do we need to explain that they could hear? Unless the character is deaf, isn't that obvious?
Don’t we want to draw the reader as deep as possible into the head of our characters so they become the character? It seems to me in the first two examples, an unnecessary distance is created between the reader and the protagonist.
So help me out. What are the pros of writing “could hear” or “heard” as opposed to simply describing the action as I've done above?
Help me, Obi Wan Writer-Nobi, inquiring Jim's would like to know.
James L. Rubart is the best-selling, award winning author of four novels, including Soul’s Gate which just won a Christy Award and an INSPY Award. During the day he runs Barefoot Marketing which helps authors make more coin of the realm. He lives with his amazing wife and two sons in the Pacific Northwest and loves to dirt bike, hike, golf, take photos, and still thinks he’s young enough to water ski like a madman. More at www.jameslrubart.com