Monday, July 6, 2009

What's in a Name or Two or Six

laundry list--a detailed list of characters, traits, attributions appended to a story; qualities, personalities, descriptions deployed at great length in a narrative; burdensome details of an individual, scene, or setting.

Laundry lists had their widest use during the times of Realism, where the things a character used or wore or noticed, the every day usage habits of the character, spoke volumes toward their authenticity. The temptation to double-down on adjectives or strenuously purposefully use duets of adverbs is great, particularly when the characters, places, and objects in a story have outstanding traits or features. The temptation to describe a character's movements in small, precise steps, also flares up, particularly if, in a particular scene, the character is performing under the influence of a particularly controlling emotion. The solution is to use as much of the laundry list as possible in the early drafts; this will insure a vivid picture of the individuals and events in which they are engaged. The second part of the solution is to remember the frequent reaction of readers to the amount of information about whales in Moby-Dick, to remember that story is an expression of movement and of characters reacting to one another.

Remember also that story is evocation rather than description.

1 comment:

Querulous Squirrel said...

I remember a period in the mid-seventies when all the New Yorker stories were basically lists of brand names, none of which meant anything to me and were clearly targeted to mean something to the upper classes. Huge turnoff. I knew someone who wrote some of those stories. Extremely preoccupied with such things.