Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Explaining the Explanations: Defensiveness Write Large

With RUE my prose is laden,
For the clunky prose I had,
For many an explanation,
That rendered my sentences bad...


It is sometimes difficult to separate the urge to explain in your stories and essays the way people think and the way things work and your goal of seeking the spark of connection, arcing between two or more seemingly unrelated things,  One editor you know has a kind of mnemonic, RUE, by which she means resist the urge to explain.  You find yourself trespassing on this boundary in an excess of enthusiasm for the actual way the thing or the person works.  You realize this makes your early drafts radiate the kind of smart ass kid in the front row, waving his hand, please, teacher, call on me, I know.  You want instead to capture the excitement of the awareness as opposed to the showoff writer, wanting to prove himself to the reader.

This is your self-admitted weak spot, the place you want to make sure you address with your blue pencil or your brown ink.  You don't have to explain it; the reader will get it.  In order to work yourself up to this level of surgery, you need to start by finding the place where the piece or the story truly begins, which is to say the place where the narrative moves forward without the push of necessary background information.  This is so much fun and does not involve your show-off tendencies and so, having found the place where it can start, you are already energized with the energy you want roiling around in the story or essay; you can then address the subjective issue of deciding where you have explained too much, where you can remove props, splendid analogies, or metaphor.  If it works as you hope, the results add a heaping measure of energy to your enthusiasm for the work; you can push the characters or the ideas around, let them interact and debate.  Ahead of you is the carrot you dangle for yourself.

The carrot is connection, by which you mean the sudden awareness either as you write or as you remove unnecessary furniture from the sentences and paragraphs.  Ah, awareness of what, you ask?  Awareness of some relationship between facts or events or characters that you did not know up front before you began writing this particular piece.  Of course you had the information but you had not seen the way the information linked with another bit.  This is the discovery you seek and for which you revise where ever possible, as many times as needed to produce that Eureka moment.

Coming to work on a piece in an off mood, where thoughts and efforts seem to congeal like rush hour traffic, you accordingly, sclerotic, you might say, invariably start explaining how things work and the trouble begins.  When you come back to such work later, you can see you have approached the work in an off mood.  You literally need to begin pruning to get the energy and enthusiasm back.  When they have returned to you, they frequently bring that most welcomed guest, connection, which you enjoy for several thoughtful moments before you rush off explaining again.

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