Saturday, May 19, 2012


Characters, like some strangers, have too much story.

 There are times when characters behave like strangers you meet while traveling or in doctor’s offices.  Perhaps the crowded conditions in a coffee shop or restaurant force a shared table.  The circumstances provoke the issue.  What are you here for?  Once the surface tension is broken, the secrets and confidences come pouring forth, faster, sometimes that the truth.

You have over the years developed an early warning system alerting you to potential excesses of unwanted information via conversation from actual persons and characters.  As such alerting systems developed, you were also able to discern times when you were the perpetrator, let’s say the inflicting agent, of such information, and as a teacher, you had to have some sense of when you were going over the line.  If you did not, those end-of-semester evaluations would do it for you.

Your quandary as a writer:  How much information is enough?  Rephrase that question:  How much information is too much?  Aha, depending on the whim of your viral or actual writing group, At what point on the scale of revelation should you anchor your determination to withhold?

Your quandary as a person who sometimes finds himself in a doctor’s office, coffee shop, waiting room, restaurant:  How much familiarity to allow, volunteer, accept?

You have fought on both sides of this civil war, thinking to dazzle with information, which has led you into the promising territory of embellishment, exaggeration, and the wickedly inventive lie which, after all, fiction is said to be the part of, is it not?  You have also been a sniper for the other side, thinking to withhold so that the potential reader, driven by curiosity, stays with your text for page after page.  In this role, curiosity of the reader is your imagined conspirator.

You also recall your conflation of the young person, perhaps from boredom, perhaps from a wish to cover up some defect or disaster, begins to improvise an excuse for not having come home at the required time or having stopped to play, whereupon some scavenging dog pounced on the groceries you were sent to procure.  Already starting to sound contrived, eh?

Then there is the famed Don’t think approach, subtitled The Sanity of the First Draft.  Don’t think until the entire draft is completed, a strategy, you could argue, that merely puts off the decision of how much to cut or leave in the next stage of the text.

Evocation—in particular as opposed to direct description—ranks high in your esteem as your way to tell a story, the nice barnacle of irony attaching itself in that view being the choice of which detail to describe in order to provide the recipe for evocation.

All these internal battles and choices, roil about you each time you set forth to get a sentence up, dressed, and out the door, concerned that it might be overdone or not adequately prepared.  Should you have let it wear its Sunday-best verb so early in the paragraph?

A joke dear to your heart emerges when you early- and mid-stage writers they are control freaks, obsessive, and compulsive.  In some ways, when you reach this part, you remind yourself of Hunter Thompson’s opening paragraphs to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, where his medications have clicked in ahead of those of his traveling companion, who has already begun to see phantasmagoria.  Wait, he is saying, until he sees the real monsters.  Wait, you are thinking, until those in the audience realize how crazy one has to be to manage all this narrative phantasmagorical presence.

You sometimes wonder if there is any chance you are too sane to be the writer you wish to become, if the stories and novels of those you so admire seem so beyond your reach because, well, because you are flat-out not crazy enough yet.

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