Friday, November 20, 2009

What's in a mnemonic?

There are times when you will go around the block sentence- or paragraph-wise to avoid using the word "that."  Having found your way back to the stream of narrative, you will again interrupt yourself when, horror of horrors, you not only use "that," you have done so twice within a paragraph.  In the bargain, you have used "and" as a connective, a habit you picked up back in the day when you were doing your best to imitate the rhythm and style of Ernest Hemingway, even though you had already had face-to-face contact with the man, consequently determining your wish to move as far away from his influences upon you as possible.  For some reason not readily available to your memory, you go to great lengths to avoid beginning a paragraph with the word "one," as in "One of the easiest ways to begin a paragraph..."  

You still wince when you find yourself using the word "accordingly" as a lever to move into some form of logical or emotional conclusion, and are only slightly less discomfited by the discovery that you have used "thus" instead of "accordingly."

Sometimes, when reviewing a page or two of narrative, it seems to you that the "that's" and "ands" and "accordingly's" and "thus's" stick out like the quills of a pissed-off porcupine, your habit words coming back to haunt you as they are not likely to haunt anyone else.  You have other plans for your prose, plans that involve it assuming the personality and intent of a particular character, plans that involve a sense of rhythm, timbre, and not to forget logic.  Your plans also include a sense of emotional layering, the wrapping of a coil about an armature, the gradual build-up of the intensity of a feeling.

True enough, you look to your favorite writers to see how they accomplish such things, but the most grating pain of all is the discovery that you have imitated rather than pushed forth on your own to try to set the desired effect(s) in motion.  Making too much of a thing about originality is in a real sense flinging the doors open to invite the voices of criticism and reproach to speak up while you're trying to compose; if you obsess about originality, you are not writing, you are thinking, you are wearing the colors of self-consciousness, flaunting them at a black-tie dinner, the effect being See how different I am as opposed to See how it is.

These are some of the reasons for keeping thought away from your intent of composition for the most part, investing your characters with a strong measure of intent, then turning them loose on the page or, if the work is nonfiction, defining a purposeful direction where your inquiry and logic are to tread before allowing your uninhibited narrative self off the leash to romp forth.  It may rankle when a reader finds a comparison between you and some other observer of the human condition, but the comparison will have a compliment rather than an instance of spotting imitation.  You can find a way to live with compliment but it is much more difficult to live with imitation.

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