All my writerly instincts go to presentation: show, don’t tell. You shouldn’t explain, just give your story what it needs, enough oxygen for your characters. Good writing serves this end. If a reader is pulled out of your story by clever language, that’s a mistake not a score.

My firm belief. Except, every once in a while, when something is both exceptionally brilliant and moves the story. I’m reading a Greg Iles book, just now, a Penn Cage mystery, dirty dealings in Natchez, one of several. And here’s the sentence:

The past was fighting its way to the surface like a sunken corpse filling with the gasses of decay.

It’s taut and graceful and strong. Right on the edge of just too pretty. But, damn, it’s in a paragraph about dredging a swamp to pull up the bones of long-ago murder victims.

And that makes it okay? Yeah, it does. Probably it’s okay anyway.