Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Beauty of Brevity

by Guest blogger Julie Lessman

Hello, Julie Lessman here, and despite the fact that most of my books can be used as doorstops, I do believe the statement above bears some truth. Which is probably why the judge mentioned above did not score me very high on A Passion Most Pure. Sigh. Because the truth is, I’m just one of those 500+page authors who thinks the only definition of “brief” is Hanes underwear. 

But honestly, can I help it if I was at the end of the alphabetical line when God gave out talents, gifting me with verbosity rather than brevity?

Yes, I can. And so can you. 

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that most of our prose has to be short and succinct because frankly that would be pretty boring, and the majority of us would be out of business. But I am saying that we need to use our words wisely. It’s my contention that every single word we use in a sentence should have a purpose, be it for clarity, description, rhythm, pace, drama, analogy, etc.—or just plain beautiful sound. 

Another judge once told me that if our sentences are too beautifully written, to the point they stop a reader in his or her tracks just to reread it for sheer pleasure, that’s not a good thing. Apparently this judge felt that anything that stops the flow of the novel—including beautiful phrases or sentences—risks pulling the reader out of the story, thereby distracting from the overall pleasure. 

I couldn’t disagree more. 

Yes, I agree you NEVER want to pull a reader out of the story with things like:

Inaccurate Historical Facts (i.e. I originally had chocolate chip cookies in my WWI-era A Passion Most Pure when they weren’t invented until mid-30s)
Chalkboard Word Usage (i.e. words that are so wrong, they almost sound like fingernails on a chalkboard, such as one book I read where the author had the heroine “skipping up to her front door” during a tragedy)
Unfeasible Plot Points (you know, the kind that make you roll your eyes? )
Unnatural Dialogue
Incorrect Etymology (i.e. I have read some form of the term “wrap one’s mind/brain around it in at least six historical novels when this is clearly a modern term)
Trite or Overused Phrasing (i.e. At least half the novels I read have some form of the phrase “his/her smile did not quite reach his/her eyes, including my first book, so now when I see it in any book, I cringe).
—Poor Grammar or Typos (i.e. When I was a travel writer, the biggest typo I ever made was in a travel piece on Kauai in which I praised the island’s beaches with the following sentence: The island of Kauai is famous for its beautiful whores (should have been shores).
—Run-on sentences
—Lack of Clarity

But beautiful prose that captures your heart? Oh, honey, I highlight phrases like this in every book I read, often earmarking those authors as new favorites because of their gift with words. And I’m not alone, either. Check out this article by Jennifer Schafer of BuzzFeed on 51 Of The Most Beautiful Sentences In Literature.

Soooo … I thought it would be fun to list some “beautiful” brief lines from some of my favorite authors including the Seekers, along with the author’s explanation (or mine) as to why they (or I) love their particular line(s). Keep in mind that my definition of “brevity” is a sentence or sentences that accomplish any of the following things in a mere sentence or so, packing more punch into a novel with the least amount of words.

—Paints a Picture
—Reveals a Truth
—Is Clever
—Is Humorous
—Is Profound
—Transports the reader
—Steals One’s Breath
—Elicits Emotion


1.) He wept. — The Bible, John 11:35. The shortest verse in the Bible, but surely one of the most potent and powerful in Scripture.

2.) My parents were lace-curtain Irish, righteous as three popes. —Irish Born by Nora Roberts. This is a line that has stayed with me when I used to read secular novels, and the reason is that in nine measly words, Nora Roberts painted an entire heritage for me that spoke volumes in very few words. 

3.) Too tiny for six and too thin for any age, she had long dark hair caught in a single, bedraggled braid and blue eyes awash in fear and wishes.Texas Tea by Mary Connealy from The Seekers new Historical Novella collection, With This Spark. I love this description by Mary because it paints such a vivid picture of the heroine as a child, plus the slight “sh” alliteration with “blue eyes awash in fear and wishes.”

4.) Though the air carried the scent of mowed grass, spring flowers and fresh-turned dirt, the vile odors that had clung to Max filled her nostrils still, as if he stood at her side, not laid out at her feet. The Bounty Hunter’s Redemption by Janet Dean, a strong sensory description that Janet says, “tugs at her heart when widow Carly recalls the terrible marriage she’d endured as she stands before her dead husband’s grave.”

5.) I DON’T WANT TO GO BACK TO THAT LIFE. EVER.Stealing Jake by Pam Hillman, who told me, “I received my copies of Stealing Jake last week and the sentence Tyndale put on the back slapped me upside the head. Seeing those ten words, bam, bam, bam, brought Livy’s struggle back full force. The line isn’t beautiful, but it is powerful.” I agree, Pam!

6.) Drops of rain fell, then paused. The wind increased, and the trees lining the road’s edge rubbed together, whining. — Healing the Lawman’s Heart by Ruth Logan Herne. Ruth likes this line because it’s “all about timing. Gods. Ours. Our ineptitude. Our inability to listen the first time.... when we really should.” I like it because of the word “whining,” soooo audible and visual!!

7.) He stepped into her personal space and she realized that the tantalizing aroma she’d smelled when she first walked into the house was the fragrance of coming home.No Time for Love from the With This Kiss Contemporary Collection by Tina Radcliffe, who says, “this is from the heroine's point of view as she realizes she has fallen in love with the hero. It succinctly says it all for her.” For me, too, Tina, because “coming home” for each of us often relates to smells.

8.) Hope had never served her well. — The Thorn Bearer by Pepper Basham. I Frankly, I had trouble picking just one of Pepper’s lines because she has a gift for unique phrasing. I chose this one because it’s short and powerful.

9.) He wanted desperately to stay, just a little while longer.  But he couldn't be here, in this place, with her.  It was calm here.  She was innocent and beautiful and perfect. 
         He was not.  He didn't want his mess or his mental illness or his past anywhere near her.  He wanted to protect her from a lot of things, but most of all from himself. A Love Like Ours by Becky Wade, who says, "These lines are among my favorites from A Love Like Ours because I love romance!  To me, it’s just plain old romantic when a tough, battle-scarred man (like Jake Porter) tries everything in his power not to fall for his heroine.  And can’t help falling for her anyway.  That struggle, that tension, is just so juicy to read!"

10.) And finally, since I’m obviously more familiar with my own favorite lines in my books AND because this is my blog, here’s a few phrases and lines from my books along with why I like them:

As writers, we are always looking for new ways to say things and bring emotions to the surface in a visual way, so I am especially fond of the following phrases because to me, they are like movie “action” clips that I can actually see, per a prior blog of mine, Keeping It "Reel" ... Or a "Novel" Approach to Putting a Movie in Your Reader's Mind.

A Passion Most Pure:

A sick feeling cowered in her stomach.

The oxygen swirled still in her lungs.

Heat roared to his cheeks.

AND here are a few full lines from my books and just why I like them:             
He studied the strong line of her jaw, the lush, full lips so ripe for tasting, the graceful curve of her neck plunging toward a body that took his breath away. Friends? Not likely. Okay, for some reason, I love the word “plunging” here because it has a double meaning that applies to the hero as well, who is “plunging” into the waters of attraction against his will.

Dear God in Heaven, he wanted her … but he didn’t want her. I really like the accent-mark effect on the word “her” in this line, which to me, states two different feelings in the hero while using the same word.

His lips were white, his eyes red, and a vein in his temple throbbed a dangerous blue. Not a good color combination. This just makes me smile every time I read it, and if you knew the cantankerous hero, Mitch Dennehy, you’d smile too!

A woman who was a feast to his eyes but a drought to his soul. I am really fond of opposite analogies that describe the same person or thing because it deepens and broadens the description, in my opinion.  

His statement drifted in her brain, its impact silent, slow, and deep, like a knick she didn’t know she had until she saw the blood on her hand. I absolutely love this line, because as a person who gets a LOT of knife cuts in the kitchen because I don’t feel them, this perfectly describes how my character feels when the hero says something that shocks her to the core.

Why?” he asked quietly, and the word made her flinch, like a sudden shaft of light in a dark cellar where roaches and rats skittered. I hate roaches, and I flinch and freeze if I ever see them when I turn the light on in our basement. It’s an awful feeling, and one that describes my heroine’s reaction perfectly when a terrorizing truth about her is revealed.

Cluny sat ramrod straight on the couch like the garden gnome in the neighbor’s yard, displaying a nervous amount of teeth in a cast-iron grin. To me, a steel grin and spine screams guilt while the idea of a garden gnome also highlights the fact that 14-year-old Cluny is inside on a sunny day, much to the hero’s angst.

Sweet thunderation—deliver me from pretty men! For me, this line sets up the story in so little words—introducing a Texas heroine who’s been dumped at the altar by a fortune-seeking pretty boy.
Okay, we’re done, and this blog may not be brief, but it IS one of my shortest, so that has to count for something, right??? 

Now it’s your turn—tell us some of your favorite lines from your own work or from other authors, and I’ll enter you in the drawing for your choice of any of my books, including my upcoming indie novel, Isle of Hope, which releases this fall and is, by the way, my longest book to date. Sigh.

In addition to being verbose, Julie Lessman is the award-winning author of The Daughters of Boston, Winds of Change, and Heart of San Francisco series, was named American Christian Fiction Writers 2009 Debut Author of the Year and voted #1 Romance Author of the year in Family Fiction magazine’s 2012 and 2011 Readers Choice Awards. Julie has garnered 17 RWA and other awards and made Booklist’s 2010 Top 10 Inspirational Fiction. Her latest novel, Surprised by Love, appeared on Family Fiction magazine’s list of Top Ten Novels of 2014. Her indie book A Light in the Window is an International Digital Awards winner, a 2013 Readers' Crown Award winner, and a 2013 Book Buyers Best Award winner. 

You can contact Julie and read excerpts from her books at, or through Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, or Pinterest, as well as sign up for her newsletter. Check out Julie’s group blog, The Seekers, Writers Digest 2013, 2014, and 2015 “Best 101 Websites for Writers,” and Julie’s own personal blog, Journal Jots, voted blog of the month in the Readers’ Choice poll of Book Fun 

Thanks for stopping by today. Hope you enjoyed Julie Lessman's blog I decided to share. Do leave a comment and share on twitter and FB if you liked it.

Elva Cobb Martin