Friday, February 14, 2014

As a Matter of Fact

For all its shortness--two letters--the word "as" can create havoc with a sentence, run a paragraph off the road, and bring a story to a screeching halt.

Depending on how it is used, as, in an adverbial sense. can convey equality.  He was as big as she was.  But as can also designate specificity.  Dramatic narratives such as novellas have become increasingly popular in the last hundred years.  As can also have implications of a designated thing or manner.  As a matter of fact, she was brilliant in Hamlet as Ophelia.

Well.

As you were saying, "as" is a word to use with care.  Look at the effect it had on that last sentence, throwing two concepts independent of one another into the same short space, in effect diluting each segment or creating the written effect of the musical phenomenon of counterpoint.  As you were saying begins with the notion of you already in motion, delivering a pitch for a specific point.  Along you come, in effect tying the tin can to the bumper by introducing at this late state the need to use as with special consideration.  

As he entered the room, he couldn't see for a moment, not until his eyes adjusted to the light.  Lots of stuff going on there, and where is the reader supposed to focus?  How about, he enters the room.  For a moment, he couldn't see in the dim light.  Then, when his eyes adjusted, he saw a number of them, strategically positioned about the large, cavernous interior, their guns drawn, ready.

Counterpoint often works in music because the ear is taking in two lines of thematic material, blending them into an intriguing atmosphere of simultaneous tension and resolution.  If you could find a way to effect the same result in written narrative, you'd have accomplished something worthwhile.  Is such a thing possible?  Of course it is. 

 But would it have the same effect in a story as it would in a composition?  Hard to tell.  As it were--ah, there's that as, slithering its way in to suggest, as if it were so--the effect would help the reader rather than divide the reader's attention.   Not all that difficult to tell how, when misused, the as trope creates the  undesired dramatic condition of confusion.  The prose becomes murky.  Which line, the reader asks, shall I follow, the first part of the as parallelism or the second?

You are training yourself to look for as constructions of any sort when you are in the process of revision, questioning their right to remain, wondering, sometimes aloud, if they earn their keep.  This sense of wonder opens up other related questions, often with another two-letter word, "it."

You are often brought up short when you see the word "it" appearing in something you have written.  This troubles you because you wish with some immediacy to know "what" the it refers to, even to the point of hearing yourself think the "what" when you see it.

Since you have begun looking for as and it, you have noticed a gradual diminution of their appearance in early drafts, but, as is the case with one of your favorite all-time habit words, "and," they sometimes appear.

Such musings cause you to realize two things about your earlier associations with composition:  You took composition for granted, confident you'd get your intentions across in a way that was understandable and, you hoped, bordering on funny.  

You accepted without too much critical thinking some of the basics of composition as they were presented to you as a student.  Topical sentences.  Don't begin sentences with "and" or "but."  Try for declarative sentences,  Don't mess with the second-person form of narration.  You even accepted the concept wherein ending a sentence with a preposition is a sign that you are allowing your prose to become conversational.  Fucking well told, but at the time, you were another version of what you are now, as a matter of fact.


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