Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Process Server

Any process loses operating inertia and continuing momentum when it is diluted by extraneous detail.  An English Jesuit, William of Occam, said something along these lines when he posited that universes must not be unnecessarily expanded, a vision famously resonant as Occam's Razor.

Story, being process in motion, becomes stalled when details are packed into it without proper regard for balance, function, or overall capacity to bear a load.

Chose details for story as though you were going on a camping trip, mindful of the extra work transporting extraneous details and frills. Recall reports of things tossed from Conestoga wagons during the migration westward, when life on the road and, indeed, the road itself became fraught with complications.

Tim O'Brien's stunningly insightful The Things They Carried illustrates the way details earn their keep in a narrative, thanks to their relevance.  A relevant detail, you hasten to add, is no mere attribute; it is propellant, imparting identity, possible volition, even greater possibility of denoting social and intellectual classes to which the characters belong.

Anything tossed into story for mere whim is not doing the tosser or the story any good; the action of a story may be a dramatic propellant but the relevance of a detail must be manifest or it does not belong.

Resonant, effective stories are like survivors, men and women who have weathered ordeals thanks to their ability to remain standing after they have come through the editorial process of scrutiny and the rigorous application of what is and what is not plausible.

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