The Delight in the Words

So, I’m reading The Abominables by Eva Ibbotson ( the last book she wrote before she died) to my kids. My youngest is old enough now to appreciate the same book as my oldest which makes things even more cuddly and cozy in the big bed every night. So at the moment it’s the end of Roald Dahl’s The Witches and the beginning of Ibbotson’s.

Ibbotson is the writer who made me cry buckets with her account of the death of a boy’s pet worm. I cried almost as much as I did when Patrick Ness did that unspeakable thing to the dog in the first Chaos Walking book. (Oh, Manchee!) The thing I will never forgive him for although I will continue to read each and every one of his books.

I love reading to my kids, especially books I did not write. My tongue doesn’t trip on words wondering if I should have used something different right there, my mind ceases to self-edit. I can just revel in them. It’s as much a joy for me as it is for the kids. I even do voices sometimes, although the Grand High Witch with her rolled r’s and her wanton v’s (vanton) and her screams of Inkland, shredded my throat something awful.

What I do notice when I read a very well-written book, is the flow of the story, the cadence of sentence, the sheer delight in the words. I think that when a writer is in love with what they are writing, it shines through. And it all seems so effortless though I know how much work goes into it.

Heavy handedness, word slogging, info dumps–those are easy to master. It’s when to pull back, and do more with less that the magic really happens. And yes, an editor helps, but not even the most optimistic editor is going to dig through a mountain of sludge looking for that nugget.

Paring, polishing, refining…these are all words that make me think of knives and hard, rasping things that smooth away the rough edges, and cut away the tough outer leaves to reveal the tender green heart of the story.
That secret delight in what we are making…isn’t that what it’s all about? Delighting ourselves first? Crafting something that wholly and independently exists where nothing existed before, and then reading it aloud and (hopefully) delighting others?

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