Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Detail Oriented

Over the past several years, in particular since you began blogging in March of 2007, you've come to see and believe how every word in a story or essay can and must contribute to the overall effect. No surprise at all to discover the number of blog essays you've engaged on the subject of detail. 


Yes, the devil is in the details, and the details make the story. A grand lesson presented itself to you on the occasion of the recent publication of a selection of twelve of your published short stories. The publisher chose them from a larger number of thirty or so published ventures, with the result that he was, through his choice, determining the theme of the collection.

In a real sense, your publisher began a process you thought to have already been completed; he wanted the collection; he wanted a particular group of stories; his choice set the theme for the entire collection. Even more of a surprise to what you considered a done deal was the arrival of editorial notes from the editor he'd assigned. 

What, you asked yourself, when you saw his memo, is wrong with this picture? Although some of the selected stories had appeared in the same journal, the number of journals, as you recall, was at least five, thus five different editors had seen the stories, said yes, then scheduled them for publication without any additional work from you.

You don't recognize such dynamics until you are immersed in them: Seeing the notes from the editor caused you to realize there was in fact another editor who needed to check in, you. After reading the publisher's editor's notes, you understood you were going to be revisiting all twelve of the stories in order to deal with the editor's comments and your own visions, acquired since the individual stories had been written and accepted for publication.

Pen in hand, you began reading, in essence questioning every word. Was every word the right word? Was there a better one?  Had you, in your original final draft, used a word that was only so-so, a word that could have been replaced with a word of greater clarity?  While reading, your mind was filled with decisions relative to the aptness of each word. Some words did not survive the reading. At other points, entire phrases found their way into the text, in the stead of or as a supplement to other words and phrases,

How easy it is to begin compiling lists of attributes, mentioning details that at first glance convinced you they were bringing the same kind of clarity to an individual story as your cataract surgery on both eyes brought to what you could see, the clarity with which you could see it, and the close-up and long view aspects at which you were able to discern and discriminate the world before you.

In essence, you were forming a personal relationship with every word, every sentence, every paragraph. You were also exerting a critical review to these elements of language, removing or replacing cosmetic words with images, metaphors, similes, and setting the foundations of evocation, in essence retrofitting narratives you'd earlier found visual enough.

You are a great fan of Gustave Flaubert because of his ability to portray a sense of an event occupying the entire stage. He appears to have begun with the obsessive search for le mot juste, the right word. Seems as though you learn more about the right word each time you ponder the concept, then spend efforts to dig it out, dust it off, if necessary, then set it to work.

A narrative begins life for you as a moment or condition within a scene, where the dramatic pressures force the principal character to take stands and, perhaps, liberties she or he would not ordinarily take, experience fears and personality tics, endanger relationships, in actuality reach a point from which they are less likely to recover than their previous odds of recovering from some significant travail.

Chances are your narratives begin as outlines, which need to have dimensions spray painted on them as they pass through the crucible of story. You are without doubt a wordy son of a bitch, which is of itself not a bad thing, so long as those words are specifics as opposed to decorative presences.

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