Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Make No Mistake about it

When you think of the word or concept of mistake, you often associate them with judgment.  Mistakes, by your definition, re previous judgments gone wrong:  the choice of a wrong mate or lover or project, the attribution of the wrong motivation or response to a character, either in Reality or in Story, the sense of being able to see some constant index or ratio of separation and congruity between Reality and Story.

A mistake or error in baseball can be throwing the ball to the wrong base as well as it could be a misjudgment of a fly ball or grounder or even the most common mistake in the game of baseball, swinging a bat at a ball in the belief that you will make meaningful contact with the ball.

A mistake is some misplay leading to disappointment, humiliation, embarrassment, or a combination of these elements.  Mistake is not taking in all the details or taking in too many of them.

The English language, so special for the way it takes in and adopts foreign words and phrases, appears to value individuality and clarity of intent over rule and convention.  When Winston began to taste good like rather than as a cigarette should, rather than ought, the worlds of grammarians and dictionaries were put on notice.  Their time was beginning to run out.

Such narrative styles and voices as you now have are based on words such as "that", which you go out of your way to avoid using, the how and why of you working to avoid sentences with the word "it," and your displeasure with the words "very" and "beautiful," each of which in differing vectors of degree produce more of a sense of abstraction than a concrete reality.  Try telling someone, "You look beautiful tonight" and there are possibilities you'll be asked in return, "You mean I didn't look so hot last night?"  You tell someone, "I'm very tired," or "very honored," or even "very hungry" and they are no more certain of your condition than they'd have been without the trope you have begun to think of as "the ambiguous modifier."

You believe it a mistake to use such words.  Even though you use "such" yourself, both as a predeterminer, "it was such a disappointment to eat at that restaurant", or a determiner, "I refuse to eat at such restaurants," and with some frequency as a pronoun, "such is their nature that they seem always to think well of themselves," you are beginning to give serious thought to avoiding such usage and, in fact, put such on your list of words to avoid.

Is it a mistake on your part to avoid words you suspect of not conveying their weight?  Shouldn't you give serious thought (and examination) to constructions which carry meaning forth in a clear, straightforward manner?

You do not approach these matters as a grammarian.  Were you to do so, you'd be subject to indictment as a fraud.  You do not write for grammar, rather to present clear, understandable images and resonant emotional responses.  Anything less--or more--would be a mistake, contrary to your intentions.

Characters with a history of previous mistakes, while not always the most reliable sorts, become interesting int their potential for future mistakes.  Characters who are relatively mistake free are not so reliable as they might seem, thanks to the reader's growing suspicion that their carryover hubris   (from a mistake-free past) will lead them to a mistake or the glorious series of mistakes known as a cluster fuck.

You believe you've an experiential pedigree for the errors you've listed in the previous paragraphs, making you a man of gravitas so far as mistakes are concerned; you know and appreciate the process in which they are made and the various processes that form Petri dishes for forthcoming mistakes.  You, accordingly, are not to be regarded as a reliable narrator, a status you once sought with a deep sense of determined effort, the better to be understood, respected, perhaps even admired.  There is the trap.  The mistake inherent in writing to be admired and respected appears to have infected many a beginning and emerging writer.  The true writer understands the absolute proneness of his characters to make mistakes and to make even more in attempting to conceal past mistakes.

When someone tells you, "Make no mistake about it..." you know it is no mistake to ask your mistake to be served with a grain or two of salt and a willingness to risk overcooking,

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