Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Laws of the Land

Of all the experimental things you have attempted with your writing, the most outstanding failures of all came as a result of your attempting straight on to define and describe reality.  These failures took you through the literary equivalents of clover-leaf exchanges in the Los Angeles Area freeway system, with subordinate and dependent clauses appearing as if from nowhere, taking tortured and unreliable curves and ultimate sighs of despair.  These experiments came at a time when you all but detested the long, rambling sentence, set forth like a Great Dane let off its leash.  You fancied short, declarative approaches, all but too literal in their directness, giving forth the effects of a beginning driver, learning to operate a vehicle with a manual shift.  Jerky going.  Not at all sounding of a piece with what you were hearing.

Writers you admired were able to slip in the occasional long-winded sentence and with them a sense of things going on about the narrative and its denizens.  You read them and did with them what you were being taught to do in low-level science and biology classes, dissect, study, then write about your findings.  It would be comforting to say that you learned a thing or two about sentences from your biological abuses of cats, mice, frogs, and the occasional prawn, but you were able to make some sense only of the complexity of the reality in which these unfortunate creatures once lived.  Some of your classmates, in particular those who seemed least appropriate, were accomplished at dissection, their work neat, their descriptions radiating a certain tidiness and respect while your lab work and terrible penmanship produced only traces of an impatience you could not identify with ease.

Well beyond your quasi-Dr.Mengele days in the laboratory, the booming wave of your learning curve brought you to the conclusion that the individuals whose writing you most admired were men and women who evoked reality by focusing on the details of beings attempting to find their ways through the various mazes and pathways of reality.  If you narrow your focus to a person or a thing, your first true and gifted mentor explained to you, it will be easy for you to see what that person or thing is trying to do, and the moment you know that--or think you know it--you will be off to--

--publication?  You ventured.

Ah, she said.  Perhaps that.  You will be off to discovery.  But you have to realize that writers who discover things are not guaranteed publication.  Now, she urged, which would you rather have?

You have experienced many discoveries since that day so many years ago, not the least of which is a tiny sort of a mantra that may wish to be a formula, may even sound as though it were one, but which is not.  The more specific you get, the closer you come to discovering what the specific wants, which takes you to the front door of story, which must now be knocked on, often more than once, before entrance is gained.

While all this knocking on doors and discovering is taking place, you will have come as close to describing reality as you can without encountering a mare's nest of logical and syntactical mischief.  In absolute fact, you would do better in evoking the sense of reality were you to concentrate on the mischief inherent in the behavior among the characters you have created.  Thus reality may be evoked through the mischief of invented characters as they are subjected to the trials imposed by the laws of drama.

It is not only well, it is proper for a writer to study the observations made and articulated by scientists about the behavior of matter in all its various forms from a cup of water to a fist full of electronic sub-particles.  But you must come to terms not only with Ohm and Boyle and Charles and Newton and others of that kidney but as well of openings, closings, reversals, and agendas of your imaginary crews who dance about your interior hallways at bed time and during those secret hours when you are paying lip service to work but are actually composing.

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