Sunday, July 22, 2012

Details


Small wonder you took to the notion of writing stories back in those early days.  When you began, there were few compelling thoughts behind the process.  Although you did not know it at the time, the major obstacle before you was the extraordinary degree by which you were working from enthusiasm and playful confidence rather than familiarity with craft.  You in effect would need years to discover how little you knew.  Your enthusiasm caused you to think enjoyment was enough.

You were in effect seduced by reading the work of men and women whose degree of craft made what they did seem easy.  There was a great message here, but you’d need years to be able to understand it to the point where you could even discuss it with yourself, much less with others.

Surely, you believed—note believed as opposed to thought—with time your work would take on that same quality you so admired, the ability to transmit the appearance of reality, an appearance you spent years trying to master by describing it rather than evoking it.

Sorry.  Doesn’t work that way.  The devil for you was in the details.  You sought to argue with the details by means of vocabulary and a super literal stylistic approach, still not seeing why it was that narrative presence was no chore at all for the many writers you admired and why it seemed denied to you. 

Description may work wonders for travel writing and for some aspects of memoir, particularly if significant, dramatic action emerges.  In most cases, description is overkill.  The major element here is detail, the telling, resonant detail, sometimes buried with a seeming innocuous hand in the midst of a paragraph.

You were not completely numb to the task.  Since your late teen years, you’d been drawn to a line from the John Keats poem The Eve of St. Agnes.  “The hare limped trembling through the frozen grass.”  Oh, the hundreds of times you recited that to yourself.  As well, you deconstructed the line in any number of ways. 

There was this exemplary rabbit, see, brought on stage to demonstrate, to evoke the coldness of the night so that when the herdsman’s fingers were numb “as his rosary he told,” you could not help yourself.  You were there, in situ, shivering with cold, prepared to see the visible traces of frost on the ghostly vapors of your breath, your southern California breath.

For journalists and essayists, even, you allowed, historians, the devil was in the details, but for the storyteller, the story was in the details.  They had to be chosen with delicacy, shrewdness, deliberation.  One detail too many and you were out of the setting of the story.

You were almost where you’d wanted to be, except for the fact that there were still some obstacles in the way, centered on words associated with pulp.  Try pulp fiction.  Try pulp characters or action-based plots or formula faction, all descriptive of worlds you found yourself wishing to enter. Alas, you allowed yourself to hear the equation between pulp and action sounding somehow at a lower level of story, on top of which any number of your friends and acquaintances told you they were waiting for you to settle down, thereupon, in that settled-down state, to write something serious.

Trouble is, when you write serious, what comes out is boring, dull, descriptive to a fault.  Thus more years writing your way out of seriousness and into something you could be serious about without fear of being flat or plot driven or anything other than what you wished when you’d been captivated by some ruling notion you were able to convince into story.

You’ve had this conversation many times with yourself and over many a beer or bottle of wine with a number of writers to the point where you can at the least speak for yourself now: 
There are any number of writers whose work resonates for you, inspires you to do your kick-ass best, wondering from time to time if you’ve earned seating rights at the same table.  You read them in awe and wonder.  There are those who inspire you on a fear-based level of wondering if you belong more at their table than the table you aspire to join.  You don’t like the idea of responding in a fear-based way, but these writers are important for you because there is so much in their work you’ve had to make yourself aware of for the specific purpose of distancing yourself.

Even were you to distance yourself for paragraphs, pages at a time, there is always the danger that this is where you’ll find your seating card.

When you think about some of the accidents and attractions coming your way when you started, you take some moments to celebrate your naiveté then, without which you might possibly not be here today, jotting these notes to yourself as a reminder.

Too many cooks spoil the broth, too many thoughts spoil the need to write, too many details spoil the story, and too much reliance on past successes spoil you.

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