Those of you who’ve popped by here every now and again know how I feel about Absolute Write (absolutewrite.com). As a writer, I’ve learned so much from Aye-Dub, not to mention the support and friendships which have sprung up from my time there, enriching my otherwise lowly existence…
The other day, I noticed a thread on one of the forums : a fellow writer wondered about something he/she had read in King’s ON WRITING. Basically, King posits that, while competent writers can become good writers, poor writers can never become competent, and good writers can never become great writers.
That thread sparked a thought: What makes great writing great? which lead me to think of great writing I’ve had the pleasure of reading. Peter Straub’s THE THROAT–which I’m reading right now–is right up there.
How do I know? Because I’ve found myself wanting to find out what happens next, how the hell all those dots are going to connect. Reading this novel makes me want to find and read the first two books in Straub’s Blue Rose series. That’s a testament to his mastery of the genre: a mystery, no shit.
But for me, what makes THE THROAT so great is the writing. The story is intriguing, but the writing is the thing. I’ve dog-eared pages to mark passages Straub has written. Not flowery writing. Not necessarily profound. Mostly, they’re simple lines, perfectly suited to the character and scene, that have a certain something…
Here’s what I mean:
He could not remember her name, but he knew he had stuck her right in the chest, and then stuck her a couple more times while she was still getting used to the idea.
Isn’t that perfect? It’s unexpected and kind of funny in a morbid sort of way. Not profound, but without a great writer writing that, I would’ve never had the pleasure of reading such a quirky, perfectly-constructed line.
Here’s another example, for a different reason:
We had at least two hours of Just Call Me Joyce, which demonstrated once again that when endured long enough, even the really horrible can become boring.
I actually stopped after reading that and thought about it, rolled it around in my little brain, wondering if it were really true. And I kept thinking about it. Such a simple declaration, but one with profound ramifications.
His hoarse, bludgeoning voice slammed each of his short sentences to the ground before picking up the next.
What I found so great about the line above is Straub’s mastery of well-chosen words. What an amazing line, I could SEE it, I could HEAR it. I FELT the reverberation of those slammed sentences, the meatiness of the man speaking: his exhaustion, his passion—
Finally (because if I don’t stop at some point, this ode to Peter Straub will go on and on and on), there’s a part of the novel in which the narrator–a writer, no less–details just how he figured out his novel from beginning to end. It’s a blueprint of how a writer’s mind works, how he gets from A to B to Z, what his thought-processes are, how he cherry-picks from his own life experiences, the feeling that comes from finally, finally, figuring it all out…it’s an incredible insight into how the real-life writer Peter Straub, fiction writer extraordinaire, does what he does so well. And he allows us to be privy to that process? I mean, how lucky are we, his readers?
That’s great writing, folks.