Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Full Bore Ahead


 You do your best to protect yourself from it, resorting to any number of stratagems you have experimented with, brought along over the years.  True, you have been stung on occasion, due to your failure to read the signs.

This is, after all, a subtle foe, one with devious outward appearances that suddenly shift from the benign and free from menace to full-on combatant.  Like bank robbers or terrorists, who wear ski masks or balaclavas, like commandoes with black knit watch caps and blackened faces, this enemy of the people is constantly on the lookout for a weak spot, an unguarded place where it can enter.

There are more potential ways to bore readers than you can imagine, a fact that comforts you by the expansiveness of its reach.  The balance sheet allows you to feel even with the wave—for the moment.

Boredom is a constant threat, a tsunami force, waiting to pounce at the slightest opportunity, performing the cosmic justice of the alchemy of reversal on enthusiasm and enlightened focus.  You have experienced boredom enough times to live in fear of having it inflicted upon you or, indeed, of sending it forth to plague another or others.  

Boredom is the least visited animal in the zoo of emotions; it is even more complex and unwieldy than grief; it strikes without warning, sometimes in places where it is least suspected.  Boredom is so insidious that it is possible for you to be convinced you are interesting someone in particular or an audience, only to see telltale signs creep in, starting somewhere around the corners of the eyes, spreading to the corners of the lips, followed by that dull glaze, filming over the eyes.

While you are on the subject, what about those times when, skimming through notebooks or previous blog entries, you find yourself skipping ahead, hopeful of finding some engagement, some clear path leading out of the landscape of boredom.

If you approach the matter in as positive a way possible, which is to say you do not lapse into a series of don’ts, you might consider an essay, How to Infuse Your Prose with Boring Elements.

Number one on the list of recommendations:

1. Be sure to use formal diction, rhetoric, and narrative.
This could be followed in close order with:

2. Eschew contractions.
3. Number three could well be, Strive for Conversational Dialogue.  You might want a subset on that:  Avoid confrontations.
4. This is easy:  Resist the opportunity to portray action.  Thinking about doing a thing or, conversely, resisting it, is so much more apt to bring boredom into the narrative.
5. If the work is fiction or drama, remember the extra effort required to have more than one character at a time to keep track of.  NB:  having only one character on stage works well to keeping the action down to a minimum and inner monologue at a maximum.
6. Since readers are naturally curious, you want to “be there” for them with exquisite recitations of details whenever possible.  “Rachel washed and dried six dishes, putting the dinner plates on the second shelf, where she usually put them, the soup bowls on the bottom shelf, and the salad plates, well, they could just cool their heels on the third shelf.  She wasn’t going to spoil the lovely design she’d made there, using the gravy boat as a surrogate for The Leaning Tower of Pisa, an idea that she’d read about in one or another of the six magazines she subscribed to in order to keep up with the fanciful potential of the nouvelle cuisine.
7. In keeping with your free-market opportunism, you’ll enjoy putting –ly adverbs to work, imparting a sense that you really mean business when you embark on a sentence, using some of those more readily identifiable American and English verbs instead of those derived from French or Spanish.
8. Rather than cutting to straightforward, and thus potentially emotional, action scenes, you might like to try your hand at lists.  You can never tell when some literary agent or editor might be looking in and you surely want to impress them with your wide, eclectic knowledge of things.  Always good to start with lists of clothing, followed by lists of things characters ate for supper.  If they’re going on a trip, you’re in, big time, because you can draw lists of the things they pack and then, when they arrive at their destination, you can plot out things for them to sight see, giving you the splendid opportunity to describe the places. Don’t forget statues, and be sure not to forget descriptions of the weather.
9. Readers love matching wits with writers and so you want to throw in clues and literary allusions they will not readily pick up, adding to the enigmatic nature of the characters and their motivations.
10. Be sure to begin as many sentences as possible with the word “It.”  It, you see, is genderless, which adds a nice aura of mystery to what you’re talking about in your narrative.
11. Try to develop habit words such as “and” or “but,” entertaining yourself as you write by seeing how many times you can use them on any particular page.  “That” is another lovely word to build into your narrative as often as you can, thinking if your text as a mini-Scrabble game with extra points for two consecutive that’s. “The sandwich that that waitress brought…” Ahh.
12. In the spirit of making the reader work, pronouns are better than proper nouns because they allow you true creativity when it comes to stringing out the potential for mischief in a given sentences.  She told him that he may have thought she knew what she was doing when she said she’d have the job done when he thought she would but he had another think coming if he was thinking she could do it all by herself without help from that other girl she’d been telling him about.
13. Take full advantage of the fact that English, which certainly includes American and Canadian English, is the only language that uses the verb “to do” as an understood function, thus instead of saying in dialogue, “Understand?” you are free to say “I do understand.  And you’re to feel free to say such things as, “Do you want another piece of pie?” to which, of course, the answer would be, “I do.”  Some unimaginative sorts would avoid this usage, but you don’t, do you?

Nice work.  Follow this baker’s dozen of hints and you’ll be on your way to a boredom readers will be talking about in the salons and MFA programs in the years to come.


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