Saturday, May 18, 2013

Dan Brown's Inferno

I recently read the first few pages of Inferno by Dan Brown and thought, as I read, "Do I have to write like this to be a successful writer?" Brown's writing style includes passages of lame writing like "I scramble, breathless..." and "hoarse voices smelling of lampredotto" and "They stare deep into my clear green eyes" and "dying unthinkable deaths" and "Langdon bolted awake" and "shot a glance at the bearded doctor" and "sat bolt upright" and "advanced with the intensity of a panther stalking its prey" and "mission had gone horribly awry." Popular writing mystifies me. Millions of people will read Inferno, and bestsellers like it, without cringing when they come across the cliches and awkward phrasing in the text. I don't understand that. I'm baffled that so many people tolerate writers writing at a mediocre level. Readers should gravitate to writers who are attentive enough to clean the cliches out of their writing and come up with poignant replacements. "Langdon bolted awake"? The verb bolt should simply be retired from the language; label it obs. in the dictionary and leave it there. Brown uses the verb twice within a few pages. "Shot a glance." If the character had shot a glance, Langdon would have noticed it. I think Brown meant that she briefly met the other doctor's eyes to convey a message to him subtly. "Advanced...intensity...panther...prey"? Don't even get me started. If this were a movie, the actor would be overacting. "Into my clear green eyes"? That's an abrupt change in viewpoint, isn't it? Up to that point the reader has viewed the action as the Shade, but suddenly the reader has an external view of him. "Scramble"? I can't picture the Shade scrambling along the Arno. I think Brown meant something like "scuttle" or "crab," the Shade running sideways low to the ground to avoid being seen, since "scramble" usually implies more haphazardness than the Shade exhibits. "Hoarse voices smelling of"? Voices don't smell, breath does. Voices sound. More like "vendors..., with their hoarse voices, their breath smelling of lampredotto." Just to quibble, with actually modifies the verb snake. "I snake through vendors with their voices." But how did you get their voices away from them? Rather than "unthinkable deaths," Brown probably meant "unimaginable deaths." "Horribly awry"? If the character is as methodically deadly as I think she is, a mission may catastrophically fail, but it would never go horribly awry.