Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Wannabe Writer's Need to Describe

 With the thousands of viable words available in the English language, rich in meaning, nuance, and specificity, the temptations for a writer to use more than necessary are enormous.  

This is a truth you see from both sides of the proposition, as an editor who needs to talk writers out of using so many words and as a writer who with some frequency can be lured into tacking another clause onto a sentence because of some evocative word.

Sometimes the smallest words, such as "and" or "yet" are the culprits, Sirens of the sort Odysseus and his men heard while making their way back to Ithaca after all those years when they were fighting the Trojan War.  Shrewd leader that he was, Odysseus stuffed his sailors' ears so that they could not hear the sirens' song.  But many writers, yourself included, hear them, whereupon the trouble begins.

The "trouble" begins with independent clauses, tacked on by ands or commas, adding the sense of a continuous flow of action.  You were explaining to a client who has considerable TV and film credits how such locutions and devices are the writer's equivalent of the long tracking shot.  

His response did not suggest defensiveness to you, rather a sense of a craftsman using a device for an effect.  In your own defense, you like to cite William Faulkner and his sentences which at times seem to go on with a determined agenda, rather than breaking them into shorter increments.  

Faulkner liked to speak of how we as a species cannot escape our past, nor can we fare much better as individuals.  He wants his long sentences to trap his characters into some recognition that the past is like having stepped on a wad of chewing gum, which the victim is now trying to get off the sole of his shoe.

You like the rhythm of it and the sense of how story is made up of individual beats, that story is in actuality all the characters, doing things, all at once and separately, some of the things, or beats, being quite similar, others quite different.  

Perhaps this is why you enjoy ballet in live performance as well as cherishing the music.  No accident that you see the story of your favored ballets while hearing the music while away from the stage.  No accident that ballet is story, set to music, where, on occasion, the characters pair off to dance together or, in that crackling dramatic way, at one another.

However much you admire Faulkner, you do not share his visions nor do you beyond your love of the sounds, have the need he did for long sentences.  You must resist the urge much of the time, when you come back to revise.  Every other page or so, perhaps a well-thought paragraph that is one long sentence.  The story and the narrator determine the music and the intent.  And the choice of words come from the character's vocabulary, not yours.

What has become the truth for you lingers, a near constant presence, something like the marine layer of coastal fog.  This lingering thing is a presence, a reminder that when you are in the midst of experience; the experience is happening.  You do not have to explain it or describe it.  Instead, you do your best to open yourself to it, experience it.  From the experience comes the understanding.

In story, you do not describe experience, you evoke it.

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