Just finished reading The Colour Out of Space by Lovecraft. I had never read Lovecraft until a couple of years ago when I read The Call of Cthulhu and The Dunwich Horror. Neither one really grabbed me. But I can’t say the same of The Colour.
It’s what might be called a mash up of horror and science fiction, as much Lovecraftian lore is, but I found this one much more gripping and well-paced. It features an alien being at once more intelligent and less conscious, less self-aware, than man. This ancient “stony messenger from the stars” comes to earth via a meteorite.
As a writer, I’m a dreadfully slow reader. I should have read the story by Halloween and already posted something. But no, I have to analyze, underline, read and reread. I have to go into the whole damn thing as a fricking writer, not a reader. So it takes awhile.
But in my analysis of his style (yes, I do this sort of thing), one thing stood out: word choice. The Colour Out of Space is full of great phrases that show you what is happening with visceral immediacy. Here’s just a small sampling of phrases:
- blasted heath
- faint miasmal odour
- sinister stars
- ragged pit
- superstitious rustics
- loathsome changes [love this one!]
- studied malevolence
- detestably sticky noise
- unclean species of suction
- fitful moonbeams
- demoniac tint
- tense godless calm
- luminous amorphousness
- deep skyey voids
And here are some verbs that really show you the action:
- “creeping and creeping and waiting”
Lovecraft’s finding just the right word is all the more impressive because he did it before the electronic thesauri we have today. Which like spell checkers, probably just makes writers unduly lazy.
What’s my plan to avoid this technologically-induced trap? I’m going to tack those words to my wall in my writing lab (next to the Kalashnikov quote) just as a reminder. A reminder to work the (electronic and wetware) thesauri to death as I go through my second, third and fourth drafts. A reminder to get the most out of a verb, adverb or phrase so that it paints a picture for the reader. You know, the old adage: “Show, don’t tell.”
And really with the electronic thesaurus in Word, what excuse does any writer have to not use just the right word? Think of poor Lovecraft rifling through his analog thesauri or scratching his head trying to think of just the right verb. It’s harder work, but in the end, it makes a quality product.
That’s about all for now. Be sure to check out this great Lovecraft website. It has his stories in electronic format, photos, a bio and much more. It also has the most fantastic name for Usenet group I’ve ever heard: “The Shadow over Usenet.” I know I’ll be there more, because I just became his newest fan.
Until next time, keep reading, keep writing.