Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Story as Beast of Burden

Let's begin with observations from Mark Twain, particularly "The right word--not its second cousin." but also "The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter--it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning."  

True enough, you have taken these from different observations of his, but these and other similar observations seemed to be a lifelong preoccupation of these. 

Given your own lapses into fustian and baroque details, small wonder these and other similar observations find their way into your awareness, wagging the cautionary finger at your excesses. Thus this observation of your own: One unnecessary word can ruin the effect of a sentence.

Without giving the matter much thought when you began, you paid more attention to setting up a framework in which words, details, and descriptions became the catch-all for convincing the reader (and you) that the settings were real, the activities taking place within them were of equal authenticity, and the motives driving the characters in service of their goals, however quirky and notional, nevertheless plausible.

In your years as an editor who specialized in numerous categories of fiction, as an instructor of students who wished to produce publishable literary and genre fiction, and as someone who put forth efforts to produce publishable fiction of his own, you've come to recognize the signs of the one or more words too many in a sentence, a paragraph, a scene, and a chapter.

It is not as though sentences and paragraphs are beasts of burden, meant to transport the trappings of story from that one moment of intrigue at the beginning, through jungles, deserts, and rain forests to the point of resolution. 

Yet you and others have seen them as such, thinking they can handle that one extra detail, that one lovely trope arriving at the end of a work day and, thus, earning a place in the draft simply because of its exquisite, stand-alone radiance.

The basic concept you learned as an editor, line editing, calls for a minute examination to see what the writer has piled on the story. There is a connection between line editing and travelers who overpack for a journey.

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