Last weekend I was at Hollins University for the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference. I guest blogged about that here. I wrote that post mostly from the perspective as a teacher. But what I didn’t say in the post was what I learned as a writer attending the conference.
In one of the classes we spoke about cleaning up our words. In an effort to show everything we researched or feel we can often become redundant. Another point was the famous he said she said in dialogues. A third point made was deleting passive use of language and the word that.
If you write an action packed thriller I can see why long sentences hinder the pace that you need to draw in the reader. However, some pieces call for a slow pace. And, some pieces just need to be cluttered as it is that writer’s voice.
On my professional blog, I cannot chase through the timeline or drag the reader in by not being redundant now and then. The crime elements and details need to sink in. Some of these cases are so old that you need time to warm up to the age. What did we have that we now assume we have? Now we scan a PDF and text it by smart phone but a few decades ago a report was faxed over the telephone landlines. The passenger used to be the map reader and was expected to give perfect directions. Now we turn on the GPS and listen to the directions. And I have not even touched on investigative methods and forensics yet. I often compare several cases in one post. It also feels a bit inappropriate or even pretentious to give my 2 cents about an old cold case without exactly explaining why. And that is exactly it.
Sometimes I cannot explain my train of thought in any other way than by taking you by the hand inside my head. I need to show you why I hopped from this detail to the next to reach that conclusion. Granted, I could check and rewrite to make it grammatically better or improve my writing style. But my cold case blog is not an English project or a writer’s blog. It is a resource blog centering on unsolved homicides, wrongful convictions, the missing, and the unidentified. The goal is to get renewed attention for these cases. I am pretty sure that the victims involved do not mind my rambling speech.
In this piece by Jo Robinson I find support for what I decided to do a long time ago: stop trying to write like others. English is not my first language. I check what I write. Grammar mistakes get fished out by the spellchecker. I do try to avoid the passive use of language but if I cannot find an active alternative AND the essence of the sentence is clear, I let it stand.
“Learn correct grammar usage, and how to spell, but once you have fair knowledge of the nuts and bolts of the process, let your own personal talent dictate how the story flows rather than trying to twist it into something that it doesn’t want to be. Write it out just the way you see it, and maybe that’s just the way it should be, and the expected indignant reader rage could very well turn out to be reader love.”
In six years of cold case blogging I have received many emails and comments from people about the blog, the layout or, the details of the cases. But nobody has ever made my language or writing skills an issue. Reader love exists. Trust me, I know!
Now go write like you!