Review: Slow Your Prose by James W. Lewis

Slow Your Prose
Slow Your Prose by James W. Lewis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It would be inaccurate to say that Slow Your Prose is a “quick-and-dirty” writer’s reference. This is because while the book itself lends to its quick nature with its twenty-five tips, it is, for the most part, clear, concise, and sometimes intriguing.

The books deals with many tips that have become commonplace, floating around in the world of aspiring writers such as, “Show, don’t tell,” and “Use active voice over passive voice.” What is interesting is that instead of strictly advocating that a writer uses active voice, Lewis shows where passive voice can actually be helpful: creating mystery or even placing emphasis on certain subjects or objects in a sentence. This is a really subtle way of directing a reader that can easily be done for any writer looking to polish on the sentence level, and Lewis explains it very clearly and succinctly.

As for the other part that wasn’t so clear, it concerns with Tip #12: “Understand point of view.” Lewis refers to first person, second person, and third person point of view as “perspectives of the main character,” but that’s not true in every case. Point of views are usually regarded as narrative “modes,” ways in which the story is told rather than only being the link to the main character. Also, stories can be told from many different character’s perspectives, whether by chapter or even by sentence, through an omniscient narrator. And this third-person omniscient narrator has access to every character’s thoughts, actions, and emotions, unless the story is written from a third-person limited point of view that stays on the main character’s thoughts, actions, and emotions the whole time.

I can understand not mixing up points of view on a sentence level, such as in the small example I came up with. This is because some information is restricted depending on the point of view being used, and to change it haphazardly is jarring: “I thought I heard something in the attic. His heart pounded.” But it’s unclear as to what Lewis means when he says that a writer should convey the “emotions, thoughts, and motivations of one character at a time.” It is as if he is advocating solely for third person limited, especially when he ends the tip with, “The omniscient view is difficult to pull off” and just leaves it at that. And while a tip book is not meant for serious, in-depth, chapter-length analysis, some clarification and small examples, as Lewis did with the explanation on passive voice, might make this section clearer.

Apart from this one area, if you’re looking for a book filled with writing guidelines in a quick, clear, and accessible manner, this is a good one to pick up. Beginning/new writers would most likely find it very helpful, but if you’re an intermediate or advanced writer, it wouldn’t hurt too much to look. You might find out something new.

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