Help (and some concerns) on identifying Joe Abercrombie's writing style

arzier

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Hey guys, newbie here. I have questions regarding Abercrombie's writing style.

Take this excerpt for example:
"She gave her horse the spurs, possibly flicking a few specks of mud over Aliz's white dress, covered the ground in no time and slid her mount into the knot of officers that was the frequently misfiring brain of the division."

I mean, does anyone else feel a bit weird reading this? The wording, the commas and the placement of subject and predicate all seem a bit jumbled up.

Normally, you would write the excerpt like this: "She gave her horse the spurs, flicking a few specks of mud over Aliz's white dress. She then covered the ground in no time and slid her mount into the knot of officers frequently considered as the misfiring brain of the division."

I did a bit of research on Abercrombie's writing style and some say he has a visceral style. Anybody care to explain what this means? He certainly has a rather odd style.
 
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TheDustyZebra

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That is certainly a sentence that covers a lot of ground, and I may take some flak here for saying that I wouldn't write it that way. Of course, I don't know exactly what surrounded it, either.

While I don't care for the sentence, there is nothing technically wrong with the grammar; she gave her horse the spurs, she covered the ground, she slid her mount into the officers. The comma part could also be in parentheses, as an aside. Aliz appears to be someone else who is standing too close to the horse and gets splattered.

I don't think that excerpt has anything to do with "visceral" style, though -- that would apply more to the "dark and gritty" bits.

I will leave you in the capable hands of ...nearly everyone else here, who will be happy to explain Joe Abercrombie's finer attributes to you. :D
 

Jo Zebedee

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blah - flags. So many flags.
Erm, I'm going to be terribly annoying and suggest Joe's style is that of Joe Abercrombie, just as Mieville's style is his own etc.

For me, the sentence works, but I often write long sentences with lots of clauses and am not a fan of fragments except in a nice action scene.

Sadly, I think it's all down to the elusive, mystical voice... ;)

And, hi, welcome to the Chrons. :)
 

arzier

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Hm, interesting... take this other excerpt for example,

"He rode at the very centre of the press, under a standard bearing the cross hammers of Angland, and wearing a magnificent azure uniform rigged with gold braid, better suited to an actor in a tawdry production than a general on campaign"

The "and wearing" part kinda makes the sentence a bit wacky. I feel that when you take away the "and" and just made it "He rode at the very centre of the press...wearing..." it would flow a little better.
 

Ursa major

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It's the horse, and its rider, that is "covering the ground in no time". It means that the horse is moving at speed (which it would, given that its rider has used her spurs on it).

Oh, and to me
possibly flicking a few specks of mud over Aliz's white dress
suggests not only a possible result of the rider's action, but also someone (the rider) who doesn't really care whether Aliz's white dress gets mud on it, because the rider cannot be bothered to look, even though mud-spattering is something likely to happen.
 

arzier

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Okay thank you guys for the replies. After a little more work, my friend pointed out to me that there are three things that are happening in the original sentence of the post. One is she gave her horse the spurs, then she covered the ground in no time and finally she slide her mount into the knot of officers. Makes a little bit more sense now.
 

Grunkins

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As far as that sentence goes, I think the "frequently misfiring brain of the division" clause does the muddying up.

What book is that from?

Generally I think his prose has improved with each book, and he's now up near the top ranks in the genre. His sentence rhythms in Red Country are occasionally beautiful, and they nearly always drop one sentence into the next fluidly, while keeping up a hint of western twang. I was very impressed with his writing in that book.

An example:
"The rain came hard. It had filled the wagon ruts and the deep-sucked prints of boot and hoof until they were one morass and the main street lacked only for a current to be declared a river. It drew a grey curtain across the town, the odd lamp dimmed as through a mist, orange rumours dancing ghostly in the hundred thousand puddles. It fell in mud-spattering streams from the backed-up gutters on the roofs, and the roofs with no gutters at all, and from the brim of Lamb's hat as he hunched silent and soggy on the wagon's seat."

I think that portion of a paragraph has a lot going on. Rhythms drawn strictly from words (the second sentence), and from words and commas (the last two sentences), filled with solid imagery. He also has a background in editing film/video, and that bit brings the reader very visually from the wide shot in tight to the long shot (in my mind anyhow) of a character having a miserable time. The Robert Altman film McCabe and Mrs. Miller comes to mind.
 

arzier

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As far as that sentence goes, I think the "frequently misfiring brain of the division" clause does the muddying up.

What book is that from?

Generally I think his prose has improved with each book, and he's now up near the top ranks in the genre. His sentence rhythms in Red Country are occasionally beautiful, and they nearly always drop one sentence into the next fluidly, while keeping up a hint of western twang. I was very impressed with his writing in that book.

An example:
"The rain came hard. It had filled the wagon ruts and the deep-sucked prints of boot and hoof until they were one morass and the main street lacked only for a current to be declared a river. It drew a grey curtain across the town, the odd lamp dimmed as through a mist, orange rumours dancing ghostly in the hundred thousand puddles. It fell in mud-spattering streams from the backed-up gutters on the roofs, and the roofs with no gutters at all, and from the brim of Lamb's hat as he hunched silent and soggy on the wagon's seat."

I think that portion of a paragraph has a lot going on. Rhythms drawn strictly from words (the second sentence), and from words and commas (the last two sentences), filled with solid imagery. He also has a background in editing film/video, and that bit brings the reader very visually from the wide shot in tight to the long shot (in my mind anyhow) of a character having a miserable time. The Robert Altman film McCabe and Mrs. Miller comes to mind.
They are excerpts from The Heroes
I just feel as if Abercrombie's excess use of commas and "and" blurs his sentences a little bit.

Example:
"Craw caught Shivers' narrowed eye for a moment, and shrugged, and ducked through the ivory-choked archway, feeling like he was sticking his head in a wolf's mouth and wondering when he'd hear the teeth snap."
 

Grunkins

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Maybe. There's a long tradition of that in English writing. Hemingway made a career out of it (after The Sun Also Rises). And currently Cormac McCarthy owns the style.
....Ah, just had to look up what that's called: polysyndeton. Compared to Hemingway's and McCarthy's usage of "and" Abercrombie only dabbles. I think it's very useful in ramping up power and nuance in a sentence, though can definitely be a bit too much in clumsy hands.
 

Brian G Turner

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I know Joe's mentioned a little about his style of style - unfortunately, I can only find a paragraph when he was asked about not using semi-colons, but if we're lucky, he'll expand on it for us at some point:
Advice for Budding Fantasists | Joe Abercrombie

Semicolons. Hmmm. I guess I aim for prose that reflects the thought process of the character in question and has a conversational tone, and in that context I tend to find semicolons a bit distracting. I don’t feel as if I think in them, if that makes sense, and I rarely see an instance where a full stop or a comma won’t do as good a job. I’m sure technically there are many examples where I should be using colons or semicolons, but for me the technicalities fall a long way behind creating the right feel and rhythm.
 

Bick

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The only Abercrombie I've read is what has been posted here, none of which seems that good to me.

The excerpt posted by the OP would definately be improved by being split into two sentences, though without the word "then" as suggested.

The excerpt posted by Grunkins is too dense and muddled without shorter sentences to break up the long ones. Sentences 3 and 4 just keep piling on the description to a fault. If you are going to write long sentences with lots of "ands" (a la Hemingway and McCarthy) then you better make those sentences have an almost childlike simplicity. Abercrombie fails in his attempts to copy the style to my mind.

If these excerpts are prime examples of Abercrombie, I'll continue to steer clear I think.
 

arzier

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I know Joe's mentioned a little about his style of style - unfortunately, I can only find a paragraph when he was asked about not using semi-colons, but if we're lucky, he'll expand on it for us at some point:
Advice for Budding Fantasists | Joe Abercrombie
That clears things up a lot. Abercrombie's style does seem to tilt more towards the conversational type (a la his use of commas, sentence fragments while describing scenery and all the "ands").

Nevertheless, I still enjoy his work. His style more or less provides a deeper sense of immersion and I can quiet explain how he does it.
 

JonH

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Generally I think his prose has improved with each book, and he's now up near the top ranks in the genre. His sentence rhythms in Red Country are occasionally beautiful, and they nearly always drop one sentence into the next fluidly, while keeping up a hint of western twang. I was very impressed with his writing in that book.

An example:
"The rain came hard. It had filled the wagon ruts and the deep-sucked prints of boot and hoof until they were one morass and the main street lacked only for a current to be declared a river. It drew a grey curtain across the town, the odd lamp dimmed as through a mist, orange rumours dancing ghostly in the hundred thousand puddles. It fell in mud-spattering streams from the backed-up gutters on the roofs, and the roofs with no gutters at all, and from the brim of Lamb's hat as he hunched silent and soggy on the wagon's seat."

I think that portion of a paragraph has a lot going on. Rhythms drawn strictly from words (the second sentence), and from words and commas (the last two sentences), filled with solid imagery. He also has a background in editing film/video, and that bit brings the reader very visually from the wide shot in tight to the long shot (in my mind anyhow) of a character having a miserable time. The Robert Altman film McCabe and Mrs. Miller comes to mind.
The me it's Steinbeck that comes to mind, especially given the title. These are the opening sentences of the Grapes of Wrath:

TO THE RED COUNTRY and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth. The plows crossed and recrossed the rivulet marks. The last rains lifted the corn quickly and scattered weed colonies and grass along the sides of the roads so that the gray country and the dark red country began to disappear under a green cover. . In the last part of May the sky grew pale and the clouds that had hung in high puffs for so long in the spring were dissipated. The sun flared down on the growing corn day after day until a line of brown spread along the edge of each green bayonet. The clouds appeared, and went away, and in a while they did not try any more. The weeds grew darker green to protect themselves, and they did not spread any more. The surface of the earth crusted, a thin hard crust, and as the sky became pale, so the earth became pale, pink in the red country and white in the gray country.
Steinbeck takes a scene before he zooms in and a chapter before we get to a human protagonist, but the fact that I'm comparing Abercrombie with Steinbeck at all amazes me.
 

JonH

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If these excerpts are prime examples of Abercrombie, I'll continue to steer clear I think.
Most authors don't spring fully formed into the world, like some Greek goddess from the head of Zeus. They grow slowly over the course of their works, and that growth is itself interesting and possibly instructive.

And if he writes a good yarn at the same time, it doesn't hurt.
 

Bick

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Most authors don't spring fully formed into the world, like some Greek goddess from the head of Zeus. They grow slowly over the course of their works, and that growth is itself interesting and possibly instructive.
I don't really get the point being made here, to be honest. Are you agreeing that he's not that good yet but he may get better? (In which case perhaps I should wait until he's better at it). I also think its untrue to suggest that no authors write great works from their very first publication. In fact, the best authors first works often area among their finest, and they write very well from the first book. Iain Banks is a good example. His earliest books are generally considered among his finest. There are oodles of other examples from SFF and non genre.
 

TheDustyZebra

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When I decided to try Abercrombie a while back, because of all the fandom here, I nearly threw the book (The Blade Itself) across the room in the first page or two. But the character was just interesting enough to keep me plowing on in spite of the writing, and after that first chapter (prologue?) it did get better. It was a decent book, but by the end I found that I barely cared enough to finish it and I didn't care enough to try the second one.

I still have people insisting to me that they are great books, but I don't think I will become a fan.
 

JonH

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I don't really get the point being made here, to be honest. Are you agreeing that he's not that good yet but he may get better? (In which case perhaps I should wait until he's better at it). I also think its untrue to suggest that no authors write great works from their very first publication. In fact, the best authors first works often area among their finest, and they write very well from the first book. Iain Banks is a good example. His earliest books are generally considered among his finest. There are oodles of other examples from SFF and non genre.
I said few authors write a great first novel. You use the qualification "first publication" advisedly, but it twists my meaning.

Books are publishable for various different reasons, not all of which are down to the author's ability to turn a neat sentence. Banks had 19 years of writing practice by the time The Wasp Factory came out. He wrote his first novel when he was 16 and it was so irretrievable he swore it would never see the light of day (although he rewrote and published Culture novels from that time).

We don't read books for one reason only, or people who like reading beautiful prose would only read classic authors at their best.

We are seeing Abercrombie's works published before he's fully developed his style. I'm not saying he might get better, I'm saying he is. I read him for his stories, and that's why I'd say read him if you like that kind of thing. To me, watching the writing change is a bonus. If that's not your cuppa, fair enough.
 

JMBowen

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I have listened to all Abercrombie's books on audiobook. I think this is why I enjoy his writing so much. When heard rather than read, the long sentences create a flow that feels like an actual storyteller is speaking to you. Choppy, sharper sentences work better in written work, I feel, because of the ways our eyes scan and move, and can be more easily distracted.

That's just my experience with Abercrombie!
 

Ursa major

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I'm not saying he might get better, I'm saying he is.
I agree. The writing in his second book, Before They Are Hanged was noticeably better than in the first, The Blade Itself.

But we are omitting something here, which is the influence of the editor. When someone's first published book appears before the reading public, more than one person may have been involved in what appears on the page.

I understand that in the past, editors sometimes played a much larger role in the creation of the finished article than is now the case. Some of those "first books" may have been the first books of the author, but weren't necessarily the first books of their editors.
 

Jo Zebedee

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I agree. The writing in his second book, Before They Are Hanged was noticeably better than in the first, The Blade Itself.

But we are omitting something here, which is the influence of the editor. When someone's first published book appears before the reading public, more than one person may have been involved in what appears on the page.

I understand that in the past, editors sometimes played a much larger role in the creation of the finished article than is now the case. Some of those "first books" may have been the first books of the author, but weren't necessarily the first books of their editors.
I read a blog this week (danged if I can find the link, though) from an agent, which argues that some of the editorial process has been shifted to agents because publishing is so competitive at the moment that anything less than polished has little chance of being taken by a publisher. That's certainly been my experience - editorially my agent has really pushed me to make sure it's polished and good and right.

On the subject of what standard/norms published writing should fall into. I adore Lois McMaster Bujold. But she leaves off question marks all the time, she uses dodgy speech allocations (he grimaced, he applauded and the like) her prose sometimes makes me wince. But her storytelling is phenomenal. As is Joe's (although I'm not the biggest fan. I'd like to be...) Mieville has beautiful prose, but I can't get into his stories at all.

What I'm trying to say - badly - is that dissecting individual passages to tell if the book works isn't helpful. It's the whole, it's the complete skills set- the characters, the story, the arcs, the language. And, of course we improve as we go, cos all of that is painfully hard to achieve.
 
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