Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Word with You

There are writers you read who appear to have arrived at the state where their narrative is so smooth and musical that no word stands out, calling attention to itself.  Every phrase and sentence emerges like a thoughtful breath and in reading it, you are in a state where images and sounds are transmitted in sinuous flow.

One wrong word, one misplaced very or somewhat, and the mood is broken and you are back almost to those years when reading was in the process of making sense to you but had to be watched with care.

A few days earlier, you were writing about authors whose cadences and music fought with the story to see who could be the more impressive, as though reading or writing were some contest rather than a medium for teleporting the reader to another place and another time, even if that time were only yesterday or the day before.

You spent considerable time trying to sound like those writers, like Hemingway, for instance, or Salinger or Kerouac, possibly Elmore Leonard as well, and for a fact the late and all-but-forgotten George V. Higgins.

All these writers did tell story.  In fact, they did so with a strong sense of presence.  Trouble is, they often made the story subordinate to the style.   In the case of Frank Morrison Spillane, also referred to as Mickey, there was an added presence of in your face.  Spillane wrote as though he had a mouth filled with soda crackers and was standing near you, reciting some document such as the Preamble to the constitution or the preface to the Declaration of Independence, spraying you with crumbs in the process, leaving you with moist detritus to go with the story at hand.

Because your personal life while working at ABC-Clio was so frustrating and pinched, you sought to lose yourself in the physical design and topography of the books you'd edited and seen into production.  After a time, such graphic design became more pleasing than editing, and when one of your books was short-listed for a graphics prize, you were thrilled.  The thrill remained until your design placed second.  A great friend who was by all accounts a skilled designer sensed your disappointment.  "Second place was just about right,"  he said.  "If your book were better, no one would have noticed the design.  It would have won prizes for its content."

You hung onto that explanation.  True enough long sentences, which you favor on frequent occasion, are a kind of extreme statement.  You've made efforts when revising to find ways to shorten or turn longer sentences into chunks without spoiling the intended music.  They will require your attention because, in the long run, you want your sentences to seem invisible.

Any number of times, now that you've begun rereading things from your past ventures into authors, you discover the hidden secret of the author.  She or he has reduced something complex and philosophical into more accessible bites, leaving you as reader to fill in the coloring.

You're still editing out from some of your work the excesses you picked up from about age ten to your mid twenties, where an elephant buried in your narrative living room was vocabulary.  Words trumped story.

Sorry.  Story still trumps vocabulary.

This might seem to argue for simplicity of style, but even there, you can't pin it down; if the simplicity calls attention to itself, the results are every bit as distracting at the long sentences and the labyrynthine tropes.

The trick is in the editing out fancy stuff while allowing the complexity and layering to remain.

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