Friday, April 30, 2010

Trick of the Eye

Even though you stress the word "relevant" in your fondness for details in a story, and in the bargain regard some of the early pulp novels as being worthy of elevation to the literature status, you recognize in yourself a certain long-windedness that persists even when, in the direct context of conversation, you can see the eyes of your companions glazing over. What you seek to do in such circumstances is what you also seek to do when you write, which is, literally, to unglaze them with narrative voice.


It may come as a surprise then when you admit to a fondness for the brief, terse, poetic-in-its concision, miniature. No, you do not mean the short-short, the flash fiction, even some of those arbitrary word length stories with the clock set at, say, fifty-five words or perhaps one hundred. Those are of little interest to you, the literary equivalent of mosquitoes or persistent flies. You mean a paragraph or perhaps two or three, such as in the frequent editorial page columns of Verlyn Klinkenborg. You mean writers who are able within a few paragraphs to make you feel as though you've known the characters all your life, writers who cause you to feel your shirt sticking to your body regardless of the temperature outside for they have created an inner temperature that causes you to reel in the humidity.

Your first thought for today's entry in the on-going saga of your blog was what you considered a clever-but-doable one: You would within one paragraph express your feelings about concise, miniature portraits wherein the elements jumped forth like the fresh fruits or recently bagged fowl or even the pot of flowers so prized by the still-life painter. You even thought to title the essay Trompe l'oeil, trick of the eye for such paintings are remarkable visuals of the synecdoche, the entire represented by a few or perhaps only one of its parts, as in the long arm of the law.

You also confess to a certain fondness for the sudden need to cut a previously commissioned work by as much as twenty-five percent. When you were reviewing books for Swindell at the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, you were given fairly generous word lengths which, on a few occasions, needed to be made less generous, which gave you the idea of experimenting with future work. You would write as long as possible then cut to some seemingly impossible word length. When you did it, you almost always learned how effective such an exercise was in getting you to focus on the most important point you wished to make as soon as possible. No wonder that your grades at UCLA began to rise meteorically right after you signed on to work the Associated Press night office; you simply wrote your examination blue books as though they were AP stories, meaning you had to stop to consider a lead before you began writing.

Life is different now in the specific sense that you have the leisure to write a first draft, perhaps even a second draft, in some cases even a third before you begin thinking about the movement of furniture, the arranging of paragraphs into optimal dramatic order. Life is also different in that this approach has meant that things will take longer, which in its turn means you will perforce be spending more time on a specific project. Yes, this, too, has a caboose to be tacked onto it; this state of events means you are spending more time each day writing something, whether it is an email to a friend agreeing where and when to meet for coffee or a cover letter for a book proposal or the opening statement of a book proposal.

Now remember, you were, as you let the bee-swarm of sleep wear away this morning, going to get all this down in one paragraph:

When you were younger, late teens to mid-twenties, even while your prolificness impressed you, you realized it was not enough because there were so many things going on about you and it was necessary to get at them all, somewhat like Nabokov,ranging about with a net for scooping up lepidoptra for further study. Now you have come to recognize that although you are interested in things you aren't even aware of being interested in, you need to consider priorities because things take time to evolve. Even a story, which you are pleased to have dropped a Nabokovian net over in order to bring it home for study, requires time to fledge, its own form and finish coming from a deliberate consideration of its special parts. Even though it is your idea and your vision, your proprietary rights begin and end with your observation and your feelings about what you see.


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