Perhaps I shall indeed resurrect thee from thy abject state, o’ miserable untended blog. Though let us not presume as we customarily do; time will do the telling, it always does. I have a penchant for grand plans.
That much said, I have decided I should like to share as an installment an old letter/criticism written to a friend of mine. The subject is a short story B. sent me, the title of which I have redacted for B.’s privacy while the implicated details of the plot and characters, I think, are more than vague enough to preserve this intent. Though there are supposedly many a way to skin a cat (something I have never tried for myself, but so I hear….), I have herein advocated craft possessed by an animist spirit of world and world-crafting that is perhaps a viewpoint effected by particular condition which I possess. Nonetheless, answers come from far stranger places than questions ever have….
March 18, 20X
B—-, old friend and newly esteemed colleague,
I’ve read the newly updated ——– and I think you are on the right track. But as a friend and a reader I have this to ask of you: more. I am still hungry for more of the dark secret, those tiny details which weigh cumulatively on the back of my mind but never quite enough to tip the scales of epiphany. Put in the parlance of our time: Tantalize me; bring the reader to the brink of orgasm but don’t you dare let them come. Pure pleasure that refuses resolution, defies the comfort of closure. I have a few words to say on the matter of wordsmithing so please, if I foray into pedantics, forgive me for I deliver it with the utmost respect and the hope that I may be of some service. I have more than a bit of the Underground in my blood yet and it is well known that once we come out, we talk and talk….
I say I want more of your story but I don’t necessarily want more story. In fact, the shorter the story sometimes the better off it is. But you need an economy of expression, symbolically speaking. You are a writer and as a writer everything you write must be written with deliberate intention. I will not bore you with passive verbs. You have already been told in incalculably repetitions to avoid the passive tense by all means. I would temper this by saying they are to be avoided by general principle but, like trouble, should be dipped into when you crave a certain affectation. However, it goes beyond that.
Take a stiff drink for example – as your man Edward well knows, when you leave a drink in the other room it is not simply in existence upon the side-table by your chair: It waits for you; the ice melts in boredom, impatient sweat beads down side of the glass, and, like a lover scorned by neglect, when you finally do return you find the welcome at best lukewarm – and thin. Objects have purpose of their own and you have your devices upon them also. As the writer you do not simply create a word and its populous. You have direct control over the ways in which your pseudo-sentient figments of imagination interact and perceive the world. You command how the reader perceives the wold in which your characters play out and how they perceive your characters perceiving the world and themselves [and themselves perceiving the world!]. There are a million-and-one reasons determining what details the human brain takes conscious note of and which are filtered out – You control all of them. From the insurmountable overflow of data, you choose what is seen by who and why. Edward notices the deliberacy and strength in Anna’s choice of words; they impress, surprise, and intimidate him just a little. At the same time, her sloppy folkly syntax appeals to his sympathy, gives him a sense of power, and assures him of his own security. The paradox vexes him. There are reasons of his own behind Edward’s response to these mixed sensations, stirred in him by Anna’s peculiarity. It occurs to me that Anna knows just what she is doing, knocking on solitary, unassuming Edward’s door.
With this arcane knowledge of craft, you have at your disposal the opportunity to infuse even the most pedestrian and perfunctory scenes with that nigh-imperceptible significance I earlier begged for. To do this, of course, you have to know what sorts of suggestions your characters might pick up on and what there is to suggest in the first place. Do you, B—-, know who Anna is? What, if in fact anything, is she running from? What fills Edward’s “black charred” memory? The meaning of the burn mark? I doubt highly that Anna just so happens to be a vagrant girl with a monumentally unstable self-image and a fetish for branding people whom she has knocked out with an acute neurotoxin, absorbable through the skin. –OR you could be a greater absurdist than I could ever dream.
There is truth in this world, though perhaps not absolute…. There are truths behind the doors of perception; it is up to you to choose which to unveil. You have an armoury of tools fit to the task. Do not forget, even your commas create meaning. They not only dictate rhythm and meter, but they also mark out the interior borders of context within a sentence. Their placement determines if a sentence is hammered out from a single plate, woven as a composite of interdependent parts, or assembled as compound device of complementary little mechanisms. Is there a picture within the picture? A sentence need not be overwrought nor must it be minimalist to fit any one of the three descriptions just as a description may be concise as three words but stand with the hidden laminate strength of its deliberateness. In choosing the right details it might be helpful to for your characters and for your readers to know – unless the distance is very slight – it is no different than deploying the pun or its deeper cousin, the Freudian slip.
I suppose that is all I will impose upon you with this brief treatise on word-craft. I hope that you do not find it rude or my examples overly vague or crude. Above all, I hope that I have not been over-presumptuous. It is quite late and my only revision is the time between how long it takes me to type and when my memory kicks in with the next string of “stuff” – syllables and symbols, and it goes on until I am finished or I am finished off by the ambiguity of alphabet.
I am both at once finished,
Dr. Cervantes F. Moody