After complaining about the modern adverbless, strictly action style of writing (aptly dubbed the Heming Way by mosellegreen), I feel I should say a few words in its favor.
First, in case anyone has missed the previous two posts: What do I mean by the Heming Way? Writing like Hemingway? Only using “he said”? Leaving at every adverb in the dictionary? For a more complete definition, let us look one more time at Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules for Writing:
3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” . . .
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
So…why should a writer consider writing the Heming Way
It sells: Of bestsellers, apparently a majority are written in the modern stripped-down style. If the majority of books that make money are written in a certain style. An aspiring author should at least investigate that style to see if it works for him. What is better than writing in a style readers love?
Easy to read: Heming Way books are books without bumps. You sit down, you start reading, and—so long as what you are reading interests you—you never stop. The scenes lead from one active moment into another in a smooth seamless ride that does not stop until the words run out at the end. There are no flowery speed bumps, where you might consider putting the book down and wandering out to get a cup of coffee. (Starbucks has a new dark cherry flavor. Really tasty. Now that you have put down the book, you might as well head out and get a cup.)
Hard to put down: New dark cherry flavor go hang! The hero is about to get his butt kicked and I could not possibly put the book down until I found out…oh, now he is hanging over a cliff! What is going to happen?
Books without speed bumps are hard to pull away from. They move. One scene flows into another. Like potato chips, you have got to read just one more page. Man, this is exciting. Get your own dinner! What do you mean, you are seven years old and cannot cook? D’oh! No…cannot put it down…must find out…have a pop tart.
Readers expect more now: In the early days of movies they used to hold the camera still and just film the scene. Then, someone discovered that if you moved the camera (the viewpoint), you could create a much more exhilarating effects. Before long, all movies had moving shots. Basically, it was now impossible to go back to the former method of just plunking your camera down and shooting.
Nowadays, books have a lot to compete with: TV, movies, video games, manga—which are kind of like books, but do not require much work to read, etc. Therefore, books have to work harder to get attention. One way of ‘working harder’ is to give more of a rush. Streamlining your writing is like moving the camera. It is a technique that produces a quick, easy to read story that is a lot like a modern thousand thrills a minute movie.
Less fluff, more story: Why does the Heming Way Style lead to more story? Well, it does not necessarily, but it might. Consider just the statistics. Take 100 authors. Put them in a room. Make them write a book. Now, take the same 100 and make them write a whole book—all those words—with virtually no adverbs or description. They have got to fill the space with something. If even a few of them do it by adding more story, more plot, those few books may well be better reads than the book the same author wrote that was not so lean.
So, a given author may write a better, more plot driven book that is easier to read, harder to put down, and delivers more thrills. No wonder the stuff sells!
What have we learned? On the good side, reading more Heming Way books cuts down on your caffeine because you do not pause to drink coffee. On the other hand, your chubby, malnurished children eat nothing but pop tarts.
No…wait…that was not it. Let us start again.
In his Ten Rules, Mr. Leonard explains he was inspired by John Steinbeck’s prologue from the book “Sweet Thursday.” Steinbeck’s character said:
“I don’t like to have nobody tell me what the guy that’s talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks. . . . figure out what the guy’s thinking from what he says. I like some description but not too much of that. . . . Sometimes I want a book to break loose with a bunch of hooptedoodle. . . . Spin up some pretty words maybe or sing a little song with language. That’s nice. But I wish it was set aside so I don’t have to read it. I don’t want hooptedoodle to get mixed up with the story.”
For people who agree with these sentiments, the Heming Way is the way to go. It delivers. It meets the need.
But the reason that it is a school of style and not “The right way to write” is that not all of us feel that way. Some of us want to know what a guy looks like. Some of us want to know how he said the line. Some of us love the hooptedoodle.
Even Mr. Leonard, upon occasion. He finishes his 10 Rules by saying:
“Sweet Thursday” came out in 1954, when I was just beginning to be published, and I’ve never forgotten that prologue.
Did I read the hooptedoodle chapters? Every word.