Dr. SeussWhen I was a kid, I loved Dr. Seuss. I liked everything he wrote, but my favorite was Fox in Socks. I’ve always been a sucker for tongue twisters, and that fox really had a few zingers. There are still a couple I stumble over.

When I became a parent, I read his collection to my kids. Their favorite was The Lorax. I read it so often, I think I can still quote most, if not all, of it by heart. It has a poignant message, and it was delivered in such a Seussical way, I really don’t mind.

Now my kids think they’re beyond Dr. Seuss, although we still watch The Grinch Who Stole Christmas every winter. So you would think my Seuss days are over. But you’d be wrong. Theodor Geisel wrote about writing, and one of my favorite and inspirational quotes is by him:

So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.

Yes, it’s another childhood rhyme, but that just makes it easier to remember. And it’s a phrase we writers should take to heart.

How often have you been immersed in a novel only to wonder why the author has spent sentences, paragraphs, even pages describing something when a few words would have sufficed, or even worse, when the information could have been omitted altogether? Poetic phrases have their place, but that place isn’t in a novel. Save the purple prose for the poetry books. Fiction has come a long way since the classics were written. Every word must now have a practical purpose or it must not be allowed to stay in the novel.

Frankly, I’m not sure the effusive description served even the classics well. I swear I read a four-page description of a ladder in Moby Dick before Ishmael ever set foot on the ship. Perhaps Melville could have benefitted from listening to Dr. Seuss. I’m not saying I’m in Melville’s league, but I know I’ve learned a thing or two from Dr. Seuss. I didn’t learn anything from Melville.

If you aren’t into Seuss-style whimsical poetry, take some advice from William Faulkner. “Kill your darlings.”


13 Responses

  1. I’m an Adult Educator and refer to Seuss frequently in my teaching. His books are great for analyzing cause and effect…The Lorax, Butter Battle Book, etc… And the messages are sometimes more appropriate for adults. “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing’s going to get better. It’s not!”

  2. Did anyone happen to catch The Grinch? It was on the other night. The kids and I watched it, but of course we recorded it too… You can’t only watch it once during the holiday season!

  3. I don’t remember being read to much, either (my parents were older, too), but I was read to some. I was taught to read at a very early age and did most of the reading on my own. That’s probably why Dr. Seuss was such a favorite… it was a fun and easy choice. And I went straight to him when my kids came along. Now, my kids and I share similar tastes in books. (Well, for the most part–my son has no interest in romances, and that’s what I write most often, and my daughter has little interest in sci-fi or crime and my son and I love those. We all love comedies and action. I guess between the two of them I get the full range of what I like.)

  4. I loved Dr. Seuss as a parent reading to my daughter. It’s a wonder I grew into such a voracious reader and a writer by trade since I never had childhood stories read to me as a child. My parents were older and tired by the time I appeared, but I guess it was meant to be because I found the books or rather they found me. And I loved reading to my daughter and now with her. We love the same books and share our reads with each other.

  5. Great post Staci. I’m also a life long Seuss fan and passed along my love of his whimsical stories to my nieces and nephew. The Grinch is always a holiday must see even though we can all quote it word for word. I hope to one day catch on and be able to make my stories flow with ease as well as keep the reader wanting more. Perhaps thinking Seuss will help 🙂

  6. Good advice, Staci. Finding that balance between love of words and actually moving the novel forward is something I struggle with for sure. As authors we feel the texture of words and phrases and images, but you’re absolutely correct, readers want action.

  7. Staci,
    This post is worth reading multiple times. I tend to see-saw between being either too verbose or too laconic. The middle ground is the Promised Land, I hope it doesn’t take me forty years to get there!

    • If I notice you wandering in the desert, I promise I’ll send someone in after you. (You probably wouldn’t want me to come in after you myself; we’d both end up wandering around!) In all seriousness, I agree. I have a tendency to get attached to my darlings sometimes and just can’t see them for what they are: unnecessary fluff. Other times I’m so brief I’m not sure I’m even writing full sentences. I was writing 4-line westerns for western writer Brett Cogburn, and he told me exactly that. I went from one extreme to the other. I finally found the happy medium he was looking for, and when I hit the sweet spot in the middle, he and the publisher liked them so much, they published one of them, retained a few others for subsequent publications, and asked me to write a full length story for the anthology. It just takes practice. We’ll all get there if we just keep trying.

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