Sunday, July 5, 2009

Simple Solutions to Big Problems

newly wed housewife, the--a fitting trope for the insecure writer; an attitude in which the writer is overly concerned at the paucity of motivational and physical detail for dramatic action.

Think of the newly wed preparing her first meal for company, then try to superimpose the image on the vision of a writer wondering if the intent and details of a story are clear enough in definition. Likely result: a control-freak attitude toward description. The exact moment an activity or intent begins. A Vogue Magazine description of what the characters are wearing. A laundry list of adjectives and adverbs. Perhaps even an instance or two or six of authorial intrusion.

None of these tactics are fatal; F. Scott Fitzgerald employs them with great regularity (Tender Is the Night and The Great Gatsby), the difference being he gives them a dramatic context that has meaning beyond mere description. These tactics give a better sense of the world into which Fitzgerald has invited us to eavesdrop. Look also at the way his dialogue and narrative work, moving you at a comfortable pace from action to action, weighing each scene down with the tang of such emotions as apprehension, suspicion, jealousy, despair, need.

There is no problem with over-describing each action between characters, each setting, each nuance of each exchange of dialogue. This approach helps articulate the inevitability and authenticity of a story. The problem comes with allowing the prompts and attributions to remain when there is sufficient activity and attitude to reflect the drama that is under way.

Hint: cast your narrative and scenes toward the goal of an emotional presence, using verbs chosen for their personality, hinting at implied meanings, picking adverbs with great deliberation, avoiding the temptation to double up on adjectives, eschewing simile and metaphor that distract from the work at hand rather than illustrate it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I can never figure out if I've described enough or not. A few people complain I don't tell what characters look like. But these things sound clunky when I add them in. Gee, maybe I haven't been married long enough.