Wednesday, September 17, 2014

It won't be long now, you say? What won't be long?

There are times you check over your notes or active composition when you come upon one of the most dread discoveries in your work.  The discovery is a single word, a word even more disconcerting than "that," which you find annoying, or "very," which you find irritating, or your favorite twofer,"accordingly," both an -ly adverb and often a word that does not need saying in the first place.

Added to this laundry list of what you have come to think of as complaint words (not because they indicate a meaning of complaint so much as because you find yourself so often complaining about the ways they sneak into your composition) is the most simple of words, "and."  

Often necessary to link two or more terms in need of connective tissue, "and" appears in your early drafts more than you wish,  In consequence, you lecture yourself.  You point out the way too many ands within a paragraph begin to weight the words rather than allowing them the glorious sense of flight for the sake of fun and clarity of meaning.

The word you have in mind for your own Most-Wanted List is "it."  Convenient as "it" may be, the word is a deliberate reference to some noun, some person, place, or thing, as a substitute for repeating or calling the noun by the name it came into the world with, perhaps forged in the fire of words originating as English, or borrowed from other languages with the same aplomb as portions of America were borrowed from other countries.

Your biggest issue with "it" begins when you find yourself responding with an interior "what?" when the word appears within someone else's prose.  What, you find yourself asking, almost in direct reflex, was cold?  What was raining?  What was the right time or the wrong time or the appropriate moment or the inappropriate one?  What didn't matter?  What was another example?

So much for mere issues.  When, during the process of revision or editorial review, you find yourself face to face with an undifferentiated it in your own composition, you not only confront the way you'll need to circumvent the usage, you suffer a measure of irritation that reminds you of the cross-section of a wedge of Roquefort cheese, veined through with the blue of a tangy, characteristic mold.  

The difference between the cheese and your reaction to the unintended "it" is frustration and, yes, a touch of shame.  You'd think to have matters under better control by now.  You don't.  In effect, "it" has its way with you.

The goals you've set for your sentences and paragraphs are high.  You wish these units of language and story and meaning to move forth with a graceful clarity, often betraying an amused awareness of the gap between human aspirations and human behavior, to say nothing at all about the gap between your own aspirations and the actions you employ to implement them.  

You do not always fare well.  When you do, one of the reasons has direct relationship to the care with which you go about your prose, tweezing out ands and thats and its and very.  You do not do this to have the literary equivalent of a well-articulated brow line.  You in fact have a wild and antic brow line.  Your major concerns are not so much perfection of grammar or syntax but of a clarity of the arguments and conflicts, struggling to provide the basis of story.

There are so many things going on within story, all at once, often at crossed purposes.  Weasel words, such as the ones you've been dealing with here, can slow the reader down, cause the sudden wrench of attention with the current action to an "it" or a "that" or a "very" or accordingly, a few paragraphs back.

Being watchful of such words has had a profound effect on the way you compose.  It won't be long before you find out why.


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