I have been doing reviews at the fringe, which I love, the atmosphere, the spirit and plain old weirdness that folk dream up, but sometimes, usually after a play, I find myself wanting to beat my head with frustration. I am literally gripping the air as if trying to shake the world. People usually back off carefully about then, though usually it’s because they know me well enough to know just how long my rant is likely to be..
Fair enough, you want alcohol, go get it, I’ll still be here waiting plenty still to say.
Sometimes it feels as though writers are under the illusion that the point of art is to create art. Its not. Good writing and clever words are not the same thing. You are a storyteller and the self conscious storyteller is one who is getting in his own way. The aim is not pretty rhetoric, it is to tell a fucking story. Sorry.. must’ve seen too many Irish comedians.
A line is only clever if it serves the needs of your story. There is between the generic functionality and clichés of the genre churn-em-outer and the endless, circular beauty of the literary Ego, great story. It’s the place Austen resides, eternally. And Chandler, and Grafton. Yes, Grafton, for though she may not merit literary accolades, according to some, she conveys time, place and character with her words all of which enrich her stories.
I understand the love of words. I suffer the same obsession. I could play forever, I likely will. But I love story too. I loved it first, and if you force me to choose, I choose it. Every time. And so do the vast majority of those who pick up a novel. It is the art of telling a story via the medium of words and only words. Pure and simple. If you wish to do something other than this, do something other than this. But do not bastardise this beautiful form to fit your needs, and perhaps worse to cover up your weaknesses.
The difficulty of literature is not to write, but to write what you mean; not to affect your reader, but to affect him precisely as you wish
-Robert Louis Stevenson
We all struggle with this. Okay, you might not, in which case why are you reading this, just to gloat? Seriously as writers everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Most writers, as I discovered writing this, aren’t keen on highlighting their weaknesses. And I guess for the published I can understand why. Its kinda like pointing out your broken nose, after which all anyone can look at is your wayward tip. I can also understand the tendency to avoid them in the text itself, but this can be problematic. I don’t favour action scenes, but when it is necessary to the story I won’t avoid it. And interestingly my action is often very long winded. I like detail, the small touches can make a book for me, and it could be seen as my attempt to show rather than tell what is going on. However I think there is more to it than that, I think I am overcompensating. Nothing I write feels satisfactory, so I just keep throwing more and more at it hoping something will work.
I think that is a tendency that exists in all writers and in all types of writing. Maybe all those writers doing all that telling are doing it because nothing they have feels right? Who knows, not me, but the desire to show off with words, while I get it, is a cheap gimmick; like Mariah Carey caterwauling, it is a tendency that no matter how tempting should always be tempered.
One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.
This is where the literary ego comes into its own. And again I understand it. It can be too easy to lose your voice in the ruts of convention. The familiar phrases of everyday language, the everyday language of the novelist specifically, can feel like the hand of the Party, turning us all into one characterless whole. There are so many of us, after all, how does one voice declare itself apart from others? We can end up falling into these patterns without even being aware of it. The churn-em-outer likely doesn’t concern themselves with this, they know they are story first, but the Ego chafes, trying to break these bonds, but in doing so often they run the risk of breaking the logic of language itself, and story is an almost guaranteed casualty.
In the end we absorb words for their meaning first and foremost, and thus in novels, over and above other written forms, you are going to create problems if the words are selected first for rhythm, sound and even paradoxically for their meaning when the overall meaning of the sentence is not considered; and beyond that when the paragraph, character, scene and overall story is not taken into account. Remember..
It is what we say that matters most not how we say it
And this will more surely set you apart from everyone else than any pretty rhetoric. Because what you say will stick with them, long after the words have faded.