I’ve always had trouble with it, both in writing and reading. Some writers, like Louise Penny and John Steinbeck, are noted for their insightful and descriptive literature. It can be a joy to read at times, and other times I just want them to get on with the darn story, especially if it is a whodunit. Cut the flowery words! Give me the mystery!
Well, I came across a paragraph the other day that did just that, and it occurred to me that this particular series of books and its sister series may be at least partially responsible for my aversion to descriptive writing, along with many other baby boomers who grew up with them.
OK, I’m talking about The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books.
Why was I reading a Hardy Boys book, you might be wondering.
Well, my bff and I have been watching a series called “Only Murders in the Building” (on Disney), with Martin Short, Steve Martin and Selena Gomez (who does a wonderful job). Hardy Boys books are part of the plot in Season 1. So, I rummaged through a bunch of old children’s books stashed away in a closet at home and, lo and behold, discovered five Hardy Boys books I bought at a secondhand book shop many years ago for my kids.
I started to read one called “Mystery of the Desert Giant,” published in 1961, in which I found aforementioned paragraph. It flies through time faster than Marty McFly’s Delorean in “Back to the Future.” Here it is:
“The boys took a room on the second floor, located in the curved section of the horseshoe. Lugging their rucksacks, they mounted the outside staircase. Ten minutes later they were in the pool. After dressing, they enjoyed a dinner that satisfied even Chet’s appetite. The next morning Frank proposed that the boys visit the offices of the Daily Enterprise …” And off they went, and they are in and out of the offices in one paragraph.
Think of what Louise Penny might have done with that. We would have had a thorough description of the room the boys rented in the motel, which might have stretched on for a few pages when dialogue and Penny-esque insights were added. I mean, the boys would have had something to say about their room, yes? Comfy beds? Did it smell stuffy?
How about the pool? We got one line! Didn’t they talk to each other? Was anybody else in the pool? Was the water warm? Cold? Nada! You gotta know that Louise Penny would have devoted a page or two to the pool experience and all the banter that went with it.
And what about dinner in the motel restaurant? What did the diner look like? Was there a jukebox? Music playing? Was the waitress nice? What did she look like? And, hey, what did they eat? And most important, what did they talk about over dinner? The case they are working on? Add another two or three pages if Louise Penny was rewriting it.
Next paragraph, and it’s morning and the boys are whisked to a newspaper office — no mention of the night in the room, morning wakeup, breakfast etc. No description of the newspaper and its “morgue.” Add another few pages if Louise Penny was reworking it.
Sigh . . . The kids of my generation loved The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series. We gobbled them up. I used to read the books by flashlight under my covers at night.
But now I know they stunted my development as a writer. Sure, I can do dialogue. And I can do a better job of descriptive writing than the author of this particular Hardy Boys book did. But it’s not good enough for moden fiction. Maybe I should have become a playwright. Maybe that’s why there are so many playwrights today.
Is there a moral to this story? Well, for today’s parents, maybe give your kids more descriptive books to read, if you are not already doing so.
That is, if kids today are still reading books. But that’s another subject, eh?