Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Best Defense

Doctoral and masters degree candidates defend their thesis, politicians defend their voting records, defense attorneys defend their clients.

The matter should stop there. Okay, so homeboys defend their turf. For sure, that ought to do it, but many writers also want to get into the act, creating a good deal of mischief and, alas, nonsense. Not the least of the many writer defense gambits is the "but it really happened that way" trope. There are other defenses, to be sure, the vagrant adverb or tacked-on adjective, just to make sure. Make sure of what? Why, to make sure the reader "gets" the writer's intent, of course. As if the reader could not be trusted in the long run, could not pass a simple quiz, needed at all times to secure help from Cliff's Notes. Ah, another matter, this. Readers are not to be trusted--only to the cash register line, where they buy the writer's book, but from there a dizzying, downward spiral of not getting authorial intent. Accordingly, the writer--already well along the path of being a control freak--must step in to make sure.

Given a particular word length to which a writer must adhere, at least one hundred twenty-five thousand words, for example, the writer will invariably come up short. A hundred twenty-five thousand! What are you guys trying to do to me? But try telling the writer to chill, let the story tell itself, let the characters advance the story. Go ahead, try. If you are not a writer, you will not sympathize with the potential for anxiety here, the vast cosmos of differing interpretations orbiting around a single scene, an exchange of dialogue containing only a few sentences. Writers will be quick to tell you how, in any instance, the text and subtext of an entire scene might be taken apart by readers, reassembled into something the author might not even recognize, giving them the right to make the preemptive strike of defending the work through narration and dialogue, but more often yet by mere description.

The appropriate response from a writer whose meaning has been car jacked by an over-zealous reader is "Oh, I see." Perhaps even, "How interesting." We should expect to see attitude, bias, intelligence, humor, and yes, pathos, too, in a work of fiction without having to suffer through mini pamphlets justifying their appearance within the text. Res ipsa loquitir; the thing--story--speaks for itself. Or should. I had no interest in writing this originally but my friends, family, colleagues at work, fellow Boy Scouts of America, said I ought to get it down on paper. Well, you might have done just that, but if the work is to reverberate with its own independence of spirit, you need to remove the arguments you use to keep it moving before your inner eyes and let it go forth as the story it wants to be.

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