Publishing / Writing / July 22, 2011

Write the Scenic Route

The shortest route between any two points is a straight line. It is efficient and quick. But it is rarely the most memorable. Efficiency doesn’t create impressions and memories. It doesn’t take an extra turn just see something beautiful. No, only the scenic route does that.
So much writing these days is the efficient, straight line route. It is quick and to the point. As a result it leaves little lasting impression on the memory. It tells us exactly how to get from point A to point B but fails to make the experience enjoyable. There is no scenery, no extra twist or turn to bring in some beauty. 
When a writer plows through his plot to get to the climax of his story a reader is carried for a fast ride. It is a roller coaster: a few brief seconds of thrill followed by nothing but the vague impression that you just had fun. When a writer checks off his points and moves efficiently through his explanations the reader is handed a crisp clean outline of whys and how-tos but nothing else.
Writing the scenic route is taking the reader for a journey, not a ride. It turns something fun or informative into something breathtaking and memorable. Instead of plot being the thrill giver, the reader encounters powerful characters, moving metaphors, and descriptions that transport him to a different time and place. Instead of helpful points the reader finds turns of phrase that cement themselves to his brain (and maybe his heart) and life giving analogies.
The Scenic route is not a detour or a wrong turn unless it’s done badly. It is a route of memory and beauty that turns the mundane into the amazing.
So when you write look for those twist and turns that add life to the words. When you read seek out those works and those authors who are guides not taxi drivers. Read and write the scenic route. 


Jul 22, 2011

I agree completely. I long for long-form writing that lets the prose breathe instead of keeping it on a leash. I enjoy Tom Wolfe and Michael Chabon for this reason. They allow their language to exercise, run and stretch. You read essays in an elite magazine like the New Yorker and they’re often provocative but also spare in the prose. The beauty of language does not readily appear.

There is a place for economic, sparse prose. But I like “scenic” writing more.

By the way: I think that you should start a new journal, not an academic but a literary one. Theme: “Sports for the thinking man.” A First Things for those who enjoy 1) sports (especially basketball) and 2) extremely good writing. The idea would be to have essays on sports, like Grantland but higher-brow. You’re the man for it, I think. You know publishing, you enjoy writing, and you could likely pull the writers together for it.

Just a thought.

Jul 22, 2011

The journal idea is a really interesting one, Owen. I’ll think about it for sure. It sounds intriguing.

I don’t recall ever reading Wolfe, so thanks for the recommendation.

Jul 24, 2011

I like this post. I recently started writing, though mostly for my own enjoyment, and I usually like to take the sceneic route. I like to read your blog for not just wrting advice, but just good common sense in general. Thanks!

Jul 24, 2011

I love this post! I can be a bit wordy at times, but I much prefer the scenic route.

Aug 11, 2011

Barnabas, I love the point you make here and noticed you didn’t march a straight line in order to make it. What other “scenic” writers would you recommend?

Aug 12, 2011

For non-fiction C.S. Lewis is sort of the gold standard for beautiful prose among evangelicals. I love Dan Taylor’s writing. He’s a Lit Professor at Bethel university and wrote one of my all time favorite books, “Tell Me a Story”.

For fiction, I love Pat Conroy’s writing as well ad George RR Martin and Leif Enger.

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