There are many things to emphasize in storytelling. Some writers are great at creating unique, fleshed out characters, while their tone may seem uneven. Other writers start with an amazing premise, though their plots may wander.
Then there’s Laini Taylor and Patrick Ness, who wrote Strange the Dreamer and The Knife of Never Letting Go, respectively. Whatever other areas may be overlooked in their work, their writing takes center stage.
Taylor’s Strange the Dreamer is gorgeous. It’s almost like poetry with its descriptions and metaphors. It’s highly polished and absolutely beautiful, even when describing ugly things.
Ness’s The Knife of Never Letting Go, however, is anything but gorgeous. If Dreamer is polished, Knife is stripped down, raw. It’s the blood and meat of human emotions and perceptions.
But both books are excellent at what they do, and both styles fit their stories so well. Dreamer‘s polished language and Knife‘s raw writing show just what a range writers have to play with their language, and both are examples of how an emphasis on writing can involve the reader in a unique way.
No spoilers ahead.
Strange the Dreamer is a world with blue goddesses and golden boys and plums and dreams. Already, everything is gorgeous and a little… strange. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself). Then there’s passages like this one.
All his life, time had been passing in the only way he knew time to pass: unrushed and unrushable, as sands running through an hourglass grain by grain. And if the hourglass had been real, then in the bottom and the neck- the past and the present- the sands of Lazlo’s life would be as gray as his robes, as gray as his eyes, but the top- the future- would hold a brilliant storm of color: azure and cinnamon, blinding white and yellow gold and the shell pink of svytagor blood. So he hoped, so he dreamed: that, in the course of time, grain by grain, the gray would give way to the dream and the sands of his life would run bright. (pg. 59-60)
Much of Dreamer is about discovering a new world, both Lazlo’s life and his exploration of Weep’s culture. Because the reader sees things through the lense of the beautiful writing, the world takes on a beautiful tone, even beyond the concrete details the reader is given.
It’s a dangerous beauty, though, like a poisonous snake. The world of Weep is perilous, for all its allure. But the writing makes the reader feel that beauty, which heightens that peril. This makes the discovery of the world more exciting, giving the reader the same reaction as Lazlo would have.
Like I said earlier, The Knife of Never Letting Go is far from beautiful. The very writing drop the reader into the story and give a clear idea of how Todd’s world is different from our own.
Since I was old enough to be taller than the sheep, that’s who I’ve taken care of. Me, that is not me and Manchee, tho another one of those false lying excuses why he was given to me was that I could teach him to be a sheep dog which for obvious reasons- by which I mean his complete stupidity- hasn’t worked out as planned. (pg. 32)
This near stream-of-consciousness gives a glimpse into the world. In Knife, everyone can hear everyone’s thoughts in an unending jumble of Noise. Just as the reader can’t escape Todd’s head, so Todd can’t escape anyone else’s thoughts. Plus, Todd’s rough way of talking both alludes to his background and puts the story at a rougher, less refined level.
While Dreamer‘s world is beautifully dangerous, Knife‘s world is just dangerous. There’s no blue goddesses in this book, only knives and dogs. The reader gets a sense of this just from the writing itself.
Whether the writing glamorizes the world of a story, like in Strange the Dreamer, or strips it down to the characters’ straightforward perceptions, like in The Knife of Never Letting Go, writing plays a huge role in how the reader experiences a book. Not every book can (or should) focus on the writing to the extent that these two books did, but they’re an excellent example of what is possible through language.
Matching the language to the world, from highly polished to absolutely raw, involves the reader in a unique way, allowing them to experience the world through the lense the characters would view it.
What are some other books that focus on the writing aspect?