Saturday, February 28, 2015

Easy for You to Say

Whether the medium you're reading is fiction or some form of nonfiction (including personal and business letters), nothing throws you out of concentration on the text as too much information.  By "information," you mean details such as facts, descriptions, and, to add a nice caboose onto the train, opinion.

True enough, you're reading fiction and nonfiction to get at these very details you've just listed, but in the simplest, most direct terms, there are such fast-food hamburgers as The Whopper, The Big Mac, and the Super Carl; then there are the likes of hamburgers at two of your favorite restaurants, Sly's , the newly opened Brewery in Carpinteria, and Holdren's Steak House, where a hamburger is not a mere tick on a computerized cash register, it is an occasion as it comes from the kitchen, sits for a moment before you, then becomes a challenge to engage.  Knife and fork?  Cut in half and thus risk only half the amount of drippy management?  Take the entire thing up at once, signaling in advance for additional napkins?

Just these scant words on the nutritional and aesthetic qualities of the hamburger innards; more often than not, the cow supplying the meat was grass fed, which, so far as information is concerned, validates its condition at first bite.  Grass-fed, open-range cows impart a sense of participating in a meal with a sensual provenance.  You can taste the process as opposed to tasting the processing wherein a burger at the likes of MickyD contains a consensus of all cow-dom rather than the grassy tang of an open herd.

In fiction, information is often as open to diversity as a patty selected at random from one of the three fast-food establishments cited earlier, packed in to suggest notes of authority and the equivalent of peer review academic or scientific discourse. 

The taste is anything but sensual; more likely it advances undertones of cardboard or sawdust, or sandwiches served beach side, invaded by a splash of sand.  You don't want consensus or a sense of chewy sameness; you want the authority and integrity of a voice and the hint of being taken along somewhere you'd had no intention of visiting.

Never take the reader where the reader wants to go; this is a good recipe to follow in story because of the way it makes the reader curious to learn more information, reading with the hope more will emerge.  Good recipes, like good stories, sound simple, easy to prepare, worth the results.  But there are pitfalls in believing a thing that sounds easy, whether recipe or story, is all that easy.

Ah, easy.  Back in the late 50s and 60s, a talented ventriloquist from Spain, Senor Wences, began bringing his original and diversified routines to the United States, seeming to appear on the entire spectrum of TV from Ed Sullivan to Sesame Street.  A part of his routine was to convince some of his characters how easy things would be for them to perform if they would follow his instructions.  This gave us a view of the good senor's versatility.



"No, Johnny.  Easy."



And Johnny's ventriloquist dummy response, "Easy for you.  Difficult for me."

Your own first impression in the matter of information is to put in everything that comes to mind while you're in the first buzz of composition.  Then, you take it out, a process reminding you of watching a woman pluck individual hairs from a brow line that wants to pull an Israel and establish settlements everywhere.

Easy is the sense you wish to imply in story and nonfiction, your best approach the umbrella tactic of learning to merge your speaking voice with the thinking one.  Write as you think, think as you write.  For good or ill, your thinking voice uses semicolons.  Any number of editors have spoken to you about this.  Easy is when you can say you'd never use a semicolon in a screenplay or a stage play, knowing your likelihood of writing in the screenplay form is limited, thinking you'd think twice about a semicolon in a script meant for the stage.  Easy is when you can say a reader who has patience to read you under any circumstances would stay with you for the occasional semicolon.

Easy goes well beyond that.  Easy is the quality you're after in story and nonfiction when there is no sense of style or word choice or even sentence length.  Nothing like that.  Only the sound of a story or essay, telling itself.  There is no music or narrative quite so fulfilling as the sound of a story or essay where the entire thread of information, detail, response, and personality sing out in an endearing, drunken, barbershop quartet, sometimes a bit sharp, other times a bit flat, emphasizing the true humanity behind the characters at risk before you, singing their hearts out. 

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