Wednesday, February 8, 2017

A Matter of Taste

The carryover from your activities as book editor and writing teacher arrive into your own compositions like parcels delivered by purposeful FedEx drivers. Without their bubblewrap packaging, these carryovers are the need for every scene in every story to end on some tangible note of emotion, and the awareness that endings cannot be described, they must be felt. Better yet, these scene and chapter endings must be felt.

In consequence, the guiding forces in story come from the spectrum of tangible emotions such as satisfaction, joy, fear, anger, apprehension/dread, hate, adoration. Lacking these, the scene or chapter ending must then produce the intense form of curiosity known by such names as tension or suspense.

The tone or voice of a particular story resides enthuse evoked emotions, during and at the payoff of scenes and chapters. No wonder then that Stephen King's narratives produce voices of alarm and fear; the reader, after all, relies on King to scare them. He complies with their expectations by frightening his readers with consummate artistry and skill of the sort rarely found anywhere else.

With one or two exceptions--Chekhov, say--Russian writers don't reach you with their voice. They may reach you with their design or cadence or other aspects of poetry, but not with their voice. You continue to read Russian writers to ratify your opinions about Chekhov but also with the curiosity that some more contemporary writer may emerge to pick up the slack.

You turn to other writers because of their voice, much in the same manner your preference for coffee shifted from your early, undergraduate cafeteria and snack stand order of cream-and-three-sugars to latte or cappuccino, no sugar. Your absolute favorite mixed alcohol-based drink is the Ramos gin fizz, followed at some distance by gin and tonic, then vodka and tonic or the so-called Moscow Mule.


In a real sense, you're tasting gin and tonic when you read the essays and short, dramatic sketches of Mark Twain. Your preference is for the dry, the tart, rather than the literary equivalent of some murky syrup roiling about. 

Even in such tendencies toward the saccharine as the romance genre, you're focused on Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre and Vilette, yes, because of the obstacle courses she places before her protagonists, but even more so thanks to the wry, tartness of her observations as experienced and reported on by these characters.

You chose favorites because of the underlying tone of their narrative voice, withholds for you the promise of plausible revelations about the human condition. At one time, your personal reading and your own compositions ran to science fiction and fantasy, then along came the acerbic cynicism of the hardboiled mystery, which held you for a time until such voice-related things as puns and metaphors began appearing in your early drafts.

When you became self-conscious about your narrative voice, that also began to appear, to the ultimate dissipation of a story line. You are most comfortable and have the most fun with the intensity of composition when you find yourself looking for ways to let the resident feelings come through each scene. You approach this with a few moments of concentration before embarking on a scene. You ask yourself the reason behind the scene's appearance in the story. Why here? Why now? Then you begin the scene, hopeful you've not started too soon with unnecessary description.

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