Wednesday, November 2, 2016

When Hyperbole Becomes Exaggeration


Exaggeration puddles in vast, subterranean pools under the surface of Reality, waiting to be drilled, fracked, and otherwise exploited by writers in the manner of oil deposits being mined by Exon. Chevron, BP, and Shell.

In the world of Reality before us, there are so many Things and Persons to account for that we begin to generalize about them unless something extraordinary about a place or object or being calls it out of the shadows and into a fuller attention.

Other standards apply in the worlds of dramatic narrative; a place, object, or being has to arrest the writer's attention before it is allowed past the starting gate. As the number of written drafts increases, the place, object, or being assumes enhanced definition in the writer's awareness, which is then made more particular by the writer's choice of words and the clarity of subsequent events.

You may write about a specific place at a definite historical moment, yet your version of that time and place will, if you are successful, differ from the same moment and place differ when drawn by another writer.

At one point in the late 1970s or early 1980s, you were moderating a panel composed of three mystery writers who set their narratives in and about Santa Barbara, each of them, through detail and atmosphere, evoking the terrain. Nevertheless each terrain differed in accordance with the vision and personality of the writer.

Directing their conversations, you couldn't help observing how, although each was constructing a particular form of puzzle which a lead character was responsible for solving, each of the three was also writing in an unintended genre, the alternate universe. 

At the end of a day of writing, you tend to feel better in direct proportion to the degree of authenticity you have imparted to your characters, the things about them, and the settings in which they interact.  Since your move from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara in 1974, you tend to write of Santa Barbara with the nostalgia for the Los Angeles of your childhood, which you felt when comparing your new home to your old. 

The nostalgia has changed form over the years, influenced by the sense of entitlement you notice from the older generations of Santa Barbara and the added bite of irony present in the sense of entitlement you sense in other Angelenos who have moved to Santa Barbara to get away from the clutter and sclerosis of twenty-first century Los Angeles.

Everywhere you look in the worlds of Reality that have been translated into fiction, there is exaggeration, the device whereby animals, persons, places, and things become larger and more articulate than their actual presence outside of story. You have to exaggerate a character and her/his  self, her/his problem, and, of course, the solutions.

The one thing most resistant to exaggeration you've discovered over the years is dignity. You cannot exaggerate the pursuit of dignity inherent in most of humanity, except when that pursuit becomes an end in itself. Then inflated quest for dignity becomes the primary target for the heat-seeking missile of satire.

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