Thursday, June 7, 2012

Empty Promises


     The longer you remain related to teaching subjects in which the product you receive from students is fiction, the greater the possibility for finding material so offensive to you in its detailed reach for effect.

The content to which you object is none of the big three—sex, religion, and politics—one is supposed to avoid in polite conversation.  You in fact rather like all three as trampoline subjects to get a dramatic conversation going, to fuel a dramatic situation, to enflame a bigot or, failing that, a conservative to the point where the character says or does something that triggers more story, more dramatic effect, a greater reach into the places in the human psyche where the story triggers are stored.

What then so drives your skin to a crawl?  The answer erupts all about you, the special effect, the sense of the writer showing off something, perhaps language, perhaps factors of information, possibly even self-image in the form of the grand effect.

Like many of your brother and sister writers, you are no stranger to showing off, sometimes promising yourself you merely want the feel or a particular metaphor or trope.  You’ll be sure to remove it next time through.  But you do not.  You lead yourself past the infraction with great haste to the point where this special effect, this shard or metadiscovery talks its way past your editorial sentries, allows itself to preen about in the mistaken belief that you have justified “it,” which is to say you have justified leaving a darling.

We all of us know what a darling is.  A darling is a thing a beginning writer at first believes he must produce in his own work to give it validity, weight, stature.  By degree, such things find their way into the trash bin, next to the phony statistics, the slipshod logic to make a point or, worse yet, an argument.

A darling is to bluster and fustian in language as showing off is to effective behavior, hence the growing tide of admonition in the classroom and the instruction book to kill one’s darlings, to stop spending time developing memorable phrases that are adornments rather than dramatic enhancements.

Your major argument against darlings is the fact of their potential for distracting the reader away from the fact that you’ve lost touch with the story, if indeed there ever were a story as opposed to a string of mere event.  You—and your brother and sister writers—come forth with the darling to distract away from story by suggesting what a clever, insightful fellow you are, when only yesterday or last week, you were no such thing.  You had no ability to distract away from the fact that you were in fact where you wished to be in a story.  You were running on empty.  You were doing a good deal worse, you were allowing things that are not story to pass as being story, thus are you able to enjoy the work of your favorite writers with less editorial constraints of your own in your regard to their material.

Running on empty is a nervous place to be because you have no toolkit filled with defenses.  You are quite literally working with no backup.  You have no reserve.  Not today.  Perhaps not tomorrow or thereafter.  You might miss a meal or two or, to keep the metaphor on the subject of work, you might produce little or no material of any value.  On the other hand, you will have used up your tricks and unless you are actually weak with hunger, you’ll still be fit to get some work done.

And what work it will be.  Lean, straightforward, fresh.  Perhaps you’ll have made it possible for one or more genuine ideas to begin—again muddying the metaphoric waters—forming and with them the energy that will propel you to getting as much of it down in some form or other.  Think of you getting the fresh material down in a fresh way.  Perhaps the bargain will also allow you to make the scientific report of the matter more than mere report but perhaps as accurate and well thought out as you’d not dared to think.

The act of throwing in darlings is the negative act of not taking enough chances.  Being devastated is, by definition, a fierce below to the appearance of how easy story is provided you perform the correct rituals.  True as this maybe, there is equal support to the notion that story was never easy in the first place, only made to appear easy, which is to say easy to support formats such as myth or communal propaganda.


Running on empty introduces the potential for being stranded, but you’ve known that, as well as you know the multiplication tables.  When you are not at risk of running on empty, you are at risk of laziness, of throwing in a few darlings to appease the mounting fear of having nothing to say.

Let us end with this brief observation:  Running on empty and failing is a more beautiful and potential achievement than holding back in the first place so you won’t run low and have to start throwing in darlings.

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