Styles: Stripped Down vs. Babble

Let us say that there are two types of books: ones that are stripped down to the bare minimum, and ones that are full of babble.

At each level, a book might tend toward stripped-down or babble.

Does the author use a lot of uncommon vocabulary words? Or do they keep it simple?

Are the sentences wordy or terse? Are the characters wordy or terse?

Do we spend a lot of time with lush description? Are we deep inside the character’s thoughts? Or does the story get shit done without wasting your time?

Does the plot meander or stick to the point? Are there a bunch of subplots? Or, even if the story has intricate plotting, does it all wrap up neatly at the end and make perfect sense? Is no loose end left untied?

If you’ve read anything that I’ve ever written, you will know that I am strongly in the babble camp. I am one of nature’s born babblers, although I tend not to talk a lot around people I don’t know. My vocabulary, while not stupendous, includes words like “stupendous.” My sentences tend toward the complex and indirect. I have yet to let good backstory pass me by.

Is that good or bad? It’s a preference.

I found myself researching different mystery subgenres in order to try to get a grip on where I wanted the mystery/crime side of my career to go. I definitely want to write some cozies, but they’re going to be a little off the beaten trail, and cozies aren’t all I want to write. What kind of covers should I use?

I was getting ready to commission some cozy covers that were a hundred percent on target for the cozy genre, when I discovered the that the cozies that were most likely to have that type of cover were for books that I didn’t want to read. I started reading a couple and had to put them down. I couldn’t figure out why. They seemed well enough written. I just couldn’t get past the first few pages.

Then I ran into a cozy that I liked. I bought it on the spot and read a chapter before I could put it down.

It had a similar number of reviews as other books I’d read and didn’t like, and a similarly high review score. What was the deal? Why did I like the one book so much, and just feel like something was missing from the other one?

I described the book to my daughter. She said, “Mom, it’s a babble book. You babble a lot. You like babble books.”


We talked about it for a while, and I’ve found myself in love with the idea: babble books versus stripped-down books. It’s not that I don’t like a really good stripped-down book. A lot of the pulp and early golden-age SF fiction is very stripped down, like an episode of Twilight Zone. Nothing extra.

But stripped-down fiction has to be really well done, and be really relevant to me personally, and be really short before I’ll get on board with it. With babble fiction, I almost don’t care how good it is. It’s like lowering myself into a bubble bath. I’m practically guaranteed to feel comfortable. Four automatic stars.

I mentioned this to a writer friend who’s a bit cynical; he said that people who read babble fiction are dying out and that’s why he can’t make a solid living off his fiction (he is pretty babble-ish). I disagreed with him in that it was a complete wash; my daughter, for example, is all about the babble. If you know anything about the web-comic thingy Homestuck, then you know that Gen Z loves their babble fiction.

But also he’s not wrong: a lot of the indie fiction that’s on Amazon and other sites is very stripped down, written for readers who don’t want to immerse themselves in a bubble bath, but who want to ingest some nice, chewy plot. The mystery sub-genres I’m sorting through definitely lean strongly toward stripped-down styles, particularly on the indie publishing side. But not exclusively.

I’m indentifying babble-style books in those genres and making a note of their covers, both indie and traditional or small-press publishers. There do seem to be subtle differences, although I can’t quite put a finger on what they are, yet.

I’m pretty sure it would be an uphill climb to try selling babble-filled cozies with the kinds of covers that go on stripped-down cozies, though, so I’ll have to rethink my plan. But It is nice to be able to put a finger on why I like some books more than others.

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