“Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “A sheer pleasure.” – Tana French. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville. “The effortless cool of Elmore Leonard at his peak.” – Ray Banks. “A fine writer at the top of his game.” – Lee Child.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Things That Get On My Tits # 1,249 (Vol. III): ‘It Was All …’

Further to Dave White’s post on blogs, wherein he lists the usual crap you can find on most blogs, he neglected to mention the ‘Totally Random Rant’, in which someone – your humble host, say – goes off at a tangent that has nothing to do with anything, really. To wit: today I came across the latest in what seems to be the latest and most irritating clichĂ© of any kind of writing, the descriptive sentence that begins with, “It was all …”.
  I’ve probably been guilty of this myself, by the way.
  Anyway, rather than describe a kitchen properly, for example, a writer will say, “It was all chrome and black marble.” Now, it patently wasn’t – if the kitchen was ‘all’ black marble and chrome, no one would be able to get into it, seeing as how the entire kitchen would be composed of black marble and chrome. In effect, you’d have a cuboid of black marble and chrome where your kitchen is supposed to be. That’s helping nobody, but especially not the reader who has just visualised said cuboid.
  I’m being a pedant, obviously, but it never fails to set my teeth on edge. Any other takers?
  The place I saw it today, funnily enough, was in the otherwise balls-achingly brilliant BLOOD’S A ROVER. Every time you read a James Ellroy you think, well, at least he won’t be able to top that. And then he does. Damn his beautiful eyes.

8 comments:

Kevin Wignall said...

No, Declan, I think you're wrong here (and I'm sure I've probably used this or similar phrases).

I think one of the big changes that came about in writing in the 20th Century was the need to short-cut the visuals, perhaps because a readership used to the quick fix visualization of film and TV was no longer prepared to visualize what "he was a tall man with an aquiline nose, closely set eyes and with a pronounced widow's peak in his greying hair" might look like. We have to take short cuts with visuals so that the reader can concentrate on the important aspects of character and plot. So, "it was all chrome and black marble" is perfect, because I immediately know exactly what kind of kitchen that is. People two hundred years from now might not get it, but we get it instantly.

No?

Mike Dennis said...

Leave it to Ellroy to set your teeth on edge, then make you chomp the inside of your cheek so you can swallow your own blood.

He's coming here to Las Vegas in 2 weeks, Declan. I'm going to see him and get my copy of "Blood's A Rover" signed. Anything you want me to ask him?

Dave White said...

Damn. I've probably done that. Good post.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I agree with chrome and black marble. I described a kitchen once by its slick granite island. That was all. I think everyone can sort of place the characters in that kitchen, enough for a short story.

I think I also said something about a Vampire's house being long on heavy drapes and short on family photographs. I really hate describing locales.

So I guess I'm on Ellroy's side here.

I'm going to meet Mr Ellroy in a couple of weeks in Denver with Stuart Neville. I'm sure it will be ... interesting. I'll wait in line for his autograph dutifully, along with the rest of the crowd.

Declan Burke said...

Kevin - I think you're 100% right in what you're saying about visual shorthand, squire, but lately (and bearing in mind I've used it myself) it's really started to kill a scene for me.

How about: "The kitchen design was mutant zebra, black marble laced with shiny chrome."

Mike - ask Ellroy how he charges by the pound for his pixie dust.

Ms Sex Scenes - certainly, in a short story, brevity is all. In a novel, though, I'm more than willing to read that extra few words.

Cheers, Dec

Maxine said...

"Totally random rants" are irritating. Take twitter- even though I don't follow that many people, you get all this impulsive rubbish. Yesterday, I lost count of how many irritating twitters people were writing and retweeting expressing disgust because someone they'd never heard of won the nobel for lit. Today they are doing the same thing because someone who is very famous has won the Nobel for peace. Who cares? Not me. I'll read that stuff in the paper or on a news site if I want to. I don't want to read all this random stuff on blogs/twitters - I read them for specialist/niche stuff you don't get anywhere else, eg details about crime fiction.

AnswerGirl said...

James Ellroy does have beautiful eyes. I'm just saying.

Fort Baxter said...

Mike: Can you ask James Ellroy what his kitchen looks like ;-)