Paler than Death Shagging a Snowman

Posted: July 11, 2010 in Fiction, General Writing Tips
Tags: , ,

I don’t love many of the authors whose names persist on the fiction best-seller lists, because so many of them write in a generic voice. Most writers understand that a novel needs complex, realistic characters and a well-structured plot. Why do so many miss the concept of distinguishing themselves through voice?

Bite Me: A Love Story

Lately, Christopher Moore’s style has captured my attention. He writes urban fantasy (or sometimes horror, loosely defined) with a highly comedic touch. In his latest vampire novel, Bite Me: A Love Story, he describes a Goth emo teenager this way: “[Jared] was six foot two, very thin, and paler than Death shagging a snowman.”

For me, this really works. Maybe it helps if you live in Seattle, but I can certainly picture Jared’s pallor and his type.

In another passage from Bite Me, Moore shows a diary entry from a teen Goth girl who considers her name Allison a “day-slave name” and prefers to go by Abby Normal. Abby tries to squirm out of a confrontation with a cop by throwing him a crapload of snarkey attitude:

“Pervy and redundant, don’t you think?” I asked the big gay cop, who wouldn’t know a va-jay-jay if it bounced up to him and sang the “Star-Spangled Banner.” (You ever notice that hardly anything besides the “Star-Spangled Banner” is spangled? There’s no, like, the Raisin-Spangled Scone, or the Flea-Spangled Beagle. I’m just saying.)

I realize this wordplay doesn’t move the story ahead. You could call it gratuitous. But after reading seven novels in a row of stock prose (“The detective nodded and got in the car,” utterly lacking life or inventiveness) I admire this compulsive creativity. And we certainly get a feel for Abby Normal’s character via word choices such as “va-jay-jay” and (later in the passage) “tights put the PG-13 on my no-no place.”

In another passage, Moore refers to an old Chinese lady’s agitated rant as sounding like “a chicken being beat to death by a banjo.” (If you’re curious about Christopher Moore, some of his novels require you to read his previous novels. To dip into his oeuvre for a test drive, I recommend starting with A Dirty Job.)

I am not saying that every writer must use shock humor and crazy metaphors and similes. What I mean to convey is that all the infinite possibilities of expression and vocabulary are available to you. Why not use them as one more way to rock your reader’s world, and to stand out in your niche? Moore excels at humorous wordplay. What is your strength?

To misappropriate a metaphor from another unique stylist, David Foster Wallace: If you believe that communicating professionally requires you to write bland, careful prose, that’s a theory shakier than a canoe full of chihuahuas. As a reflection of the opinions and passions you strongly feel, passive sentences laboring under colorless verbs make your voice seem paler than Death shagging a snowman. Choose to let your unique creativity emerge in your style. Otherwise, your work comes off like “me too.” Be heard, or be herded.

  1. Steve Pinzon says:

    The article made me laugh and think, always a good thing. However, I’m not sure I’ll be able to rid myself of the visual “a canoe full of chihuahuas.” Good stuff!

  2. […] July 14, 2010 tags: emotions, Helen Simonson, Major Pettigrew, style, voice by Scott Pinzon My last entry spotlighted Christopher Moore’s humorous wordplay as an example of a stand-out voice. This entry […]

  3. BenZarius says:

    ❤ Christopher Moore. I've read the first two of the vampire series, and I have the 3rd one on my shelf here waiting to be read.

    My first love, of course will always be "Lamb".


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