Crotchety is one of those rarely used words that should be thrust back into the spotlight again. And I’m just the crotchety old bastard to do so. So bear with me as I go all “get off my lawn” on your asses. That’s just how I roll.
According to the much loved and every popular Merriam-Webster (and by the way, you should definitely be subscribed to its twitter feed, they post good shit every day):
I could follow the rabbit trail and look up crotchets, which will probably lead me to crotch, and now we’re talking about balls, but I’ll stick to what we’ve already got. Let’s just say being crotchety means being ill tempered and leave it at that, shall we. Yes, I think we shall.
But on a more precise note, crotchety has come to be related to older folks who complain about younger folks. It’s the whole get off my lawn syndrome, only with less Clint Eastwood and guns and violence and death, though many of us would wish to do that to you. It’s the inter-generational differences that arise as one group ages and clings more and more to their beliefs and the things they love and perceive the following generation to be silly idiots doing stupid things that no one could possibly love.
Now, don’t get me wrong. For the most part, I love younger generations. We’ve got the Millennials right behind us Gen-Xers, and they’re a pretty alright bunch of froods for certain. They take a “live and let live” attitude for the most part, although I do see a large uptick in the red pilling, immigrant hating, trolling crowd lately that has me worried. But, in time they’ll adapt and become more decent human beings. And behind them is some other group that I’m not even sure what their name is yet. Let’s call them Sir Not Appearing In This Story, or some such twaddle.
As a writer, I end up reading a lot of books. I feel its my duty to learn all I can from others successes, and I enjoy reading of course. Audiobooks get more of my attention since my commute is an hour plus each way, and I go through those quickly. And, I’m growing more and more crotchety about the state of young adult fiction, having recently been treated to several examples that I feel are… well… lacking. For want of more precise wording.
Now, audiobooks are weird for me anyways. I use a bluetooth connector that plugs into my lighter jack and transmits over a radio station in my car, because I’m just too cheap to buy either a newer car with built in connectors/bluetooth, or a new radio with those features. This thing cost me thirty bucks, I think that’s a big enough outlay for what I need it to do. But some audiobooks have very low sound levels, and when they transmit to my radio, I often can barely hear the narrator over road noise. Add in some bad weather or a really huge fucking truck passing me, and I might as well be listening to frogs orgasming. Which, is really gross now that I think about it.
The most recent couple of books were interesting. One of them was a one off novel that got lots of good reviews, and one is part of a book series that is highly rated. The first one, the one off, I sort of wanted to like, but there were several issues. First, the sound quality was too low, so there’s that. But also, the main character was a young teen girl, and I simply can’t relate to worrying about training bra’s, and periods, and whether or not boy x, y or z like me. Hey, that’s on me, not the writer, it wasn’t written with me in mind. I’m not the target audience. I like the premise behind it overall, but couldn’t finish it.
The second book is something more akin to a Hunger Games, Divurgent style series, and has gotten rave reviews. And I’m listening to it, it has good audio quality, but the more I listen, the more I hear the WORK the author is doing to make the story meet expectations. And I don’t mean the hard work every author does to create a work of fiction. What I’m hearing is the ticking of boxes in the author’s toolbox to meet certain expectations. Oh, and no, I’m not going to name the series, because I’m not hear to shame folks. I’m hear to talk about what I’m hearing when I’m reading books, hearing in my head.
So what I mean is: the author has clearly taken some writing courses, gotten advice from others online, read all the “do’s and don’ts” that people post. The whole “show don’t tell” thing, for example. But to me, it is blatantly obvious when they are reaching for those lists and trying to match them. The “show” becomes obvious, mechanical, visible in the prose. They strive to describe the main character’s fear with things like clenched fists, and hearts in throats, and cold chills. Okay, fine, I get that… but… but, but, but this book is written first person. The character themselves are telling the story. So I’m sorry, but yes, they fucking can well say “I was scared.” You don’t need to be showing every time in this case. You want to show fear on the characters they are witnessing, the other person the main character is looking at. The MC doesn’t know they are scared, but they can see all the signs and reach a conclusion about their emotional state. Respond to them once they’ve reached that conclusion.
Smooth prose is the hardest thing to teach and learn. You simply know it when you read it. And what I think is smooth prose, another person might not agree with. It is entirely subjective, as is everything to do with novels. But these books, these current YA offerings, strike me as very mechanical and dull because of the attempts to tick off the necessary expectations we are all being fed online.
Write your book. Don’t worry about it. Don’t read the lists that tell you what to do and don’t do and think “oh shit, I need to stop doing x and y and start doing apples and oranges.” I keep seeing the sentence length meme reposted, the one that talks about how you need to vary your sentence lengths so they don’t sound monotonous. Don’t worry about it! Write you shit, then read it out loud, and you’ll start to hear that stuff. Heck, you should have learned that in high school when you were writing English papers anyways (and if you have my wife, you damn well did learn it). It’s not secret knowledge being hidden away, to be suddenly discovered like the treasure of the Lost Temple. It’s what we as writers should already be doing without our prose.
Write your story. Listen to your critiquers, re-write. Don’t sweat all the do and don’t lists. You’ll learn over time what works for you and what doesn’t without those things. Sure, some of that knowledge is helpful. Remove your adverbs as much as you can, they sound weak. Try to avoid passive voice, it sounds weak. Try to show instead of tell the reader what’s happening. But if you apply them too vigorously, it will weaken the you underneath the story, the writing style that is your own.
So yeah, I’m a little crotchety about this. I want good stories, not mechanical, checked-off-each-box-of-requirements plots that rehash old ground and don’t sound fresh or new or exciting. I’m going to finish that second book anyways, because I’m at least intrigued enough to want to know the ending, but otherwise… I’ll go mow the lawn or something.
Just keep off my grass, damn it!