Sunday, August 9, 2009
More Than 5 Hour Energy
Every successful work of art needs a high level of energy. As a musician, I know that the more energy I channel into my singing, the more the audience enjoys it. When I'm on the other side of the footlights--say, when I shell out money to go to a play--I don't want the actors to be lethargic, either in how they deliver their lines or how they move, or fail to move, across the stage. Visual art is the same--a great painting or sculpture will always capture your attention, then lead your eye to explore it in detail. A work with no energy, or "pop" as I've heard artists call it, is passed by. Mona Lisa has "pop."
A novel is no different. Energy is what gives readers their money's worth. The story has to have momentum, intricacies and twists, and the prose has to be fresh and lively. And perhaps, most of all, the book can't take itself too seriously. An earnest book, like an earnest person, is usually a complete bore. The message to the reader should be "Come out and play." And if you're going to ask someone to play with you in chapter one, don't wuss out, pick up your marbles and go home by chapter 3. The author has to sustain high energy through to the end.
Giving a book the right amount of energy is a tightrope walk. You have to put in enough detail to create a full, rich image, without bogging the story down with too much trivia. Details are like carbohydrates. The right amount gives you energy. Too much or too little makes you feel tired. The same goes for timing and suspense. You can't tell your readers too much too soon, but you can't lead them on too long either. And as in a healthy diet, you have to balance everything: action with information, narration with dialogue.
For me, though, dull prose is what slows a book down most. As a reader, I think the publishing industry should do us all a favor by putting ingredient information on the back covers. I'd be more likely to buy a book with, say, "30% more descriptive verbs" or "50% less author indulgence."