I’ve heard it said that a writer should strive to be invisible in his or her own work. I’ve heard that your prose should be transparent so that nothing stands in between the reader and the story. I’ve heard that if a sentence sounds like writing it should be rewritten until it doesn’t. I confess that I’ve never completely understood these kinds of statements, and my initial reaction is to take a stand against them.
First, writing cannot completely escape an element of the artificial. Language evolved as a face to face way of communicating information. Writing is one step removed from that. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to make our writing feel natural, but communicating through writing requires steps that face to face communication doesn’t. Writing is not talking and cannot be treated like it. Writing, by its very nature, is more formal than talking, and I personally consider that a strength rather than a weakness.
Second, when I read the writers who are said to exhibit transparent prose I find myself even more confused. Stephen King, for example. I like a lot of King’s work but every time he throws in words, phrases and even whole sentences written in all caps I find myself wincing and completely aware that I’m “reading” a story and not living it. Lee Child is another example. His transparent prose is so deliberately ‘unwriterly’ that it calls attention to its very attempt not to call attention. Child tells a good story, but I’d much rather his prose be a bit less “invisible.” It would make it easier for me to read.
Third, I may be a writer but I’m also a reader, and I’ve been a reader much longer. I find that I just don’t enjoy “transparent” prose. There are some known writers whose names I won’t mention who strive to write invisible prose. I can’t even read them. It’s like eating gruel. It’s like drinking flat soda. It’s like being on a diet that allows no sugar, no salt, no fat, no taste.
I love a good story, and if the story is good I’ll forgive some mundane prose. But I’ve read a lot in my day, and the story had better be really good. And I know that, for myself, I don’t just read for the story. I read to be immersed, to be enthralled, to see and hear and feel the (a) world in ways I haven’t before. You can’t do that for me with everyday language. You’ve got to give me a little poetry.