Sunday, March 30, 2014

What makes good prose?

Ana muses on effective prose
Novelist Jon Hassler said: "I want my books to be accessible, I want people to just step into them and not have any barrier between them and the story — which means the prose shouldn't even be noticeable. But it takes a lot of work to make it not noticeable, I find."
When I read this simple declaration, I stopped to ponder what he meant by “the prose shouldn’t even be noticeable.” Jon Hassler is revered in the Minnesota section of the writing world.  He had to mean that:

1.    grammar is correct and unobtrusive.
2.    words are chosen for their accessibility and plain descriptiveness.
3.    sentence structure is smooth and serves the story.

Prose that serves the story. That doesn’t jar the reader out of the story.
That is hard to write and a delight to read. 

The Writer’s Almanac says Hassler’s first big success was The Love Hunter (1981), about two friends who teach at a small Minnesota college, one of whom is dying of multiple sclerosis. When they go on a hunting trip together, the healthy man decides to kill the dying man, to end his pain and so that he can marry his wife, whom he is secretly in love with.

That’s a plot I wouldn’t want to be jarred out of. 


  1. I completely agree with the three points you've made, Ana. All of them are necessary in order to avoid the ungrammatical, flowery and/or jerky prose I've read in some novels!

  2. Can you think of any other points?

  3. I think you've summed them up very well. Prose and word usage appropriate to the genre is the only other thing I can think of e.g. chick-lit prose would be different from medieval novel prose (etc)

  4. Actually, you're already said that with the phrase 'prose that serves the story.' :-)

  5. I'd love to see examples of his writing to truly understand what he means. I think you've got his point, Ana, but I'd love to see what he thinks he means.

  6. I will Google him and see what I can come up with.

  7. Sloppy or over-intrusive writing does tend to get in the way of the story.