No story is everyone’s friend

I have to teach myself not to read too much into everything. It comes from too long having to read so much into hardly anything at all. Madox, The English Patient.

I’m thinking about language. So many words and phrases in English have fallen by the wayside. Almost like wayside. Who says prithee any more, or peradventure? And if it’s difficult getting them into (I was going to say normal) conversation, try using them in a story or article and immediately it’s pretentious. Yet I kinda deplore the lowest common denominator thing. When I was a kid, learning new words was a challenge and it was exciting to try them out. Especially since it was a story of pain and embarrassment just to get the point of being able to read. Now sophisticated language is attacked as elitist or alienating, or both. Where’s the line between academic bad writing (some pearlers can be found here) and language that enriches and stretches both the imagination and the vocab?

My school of thought adheres to the notion that the perfect word is the perfect word. In the right circumstances, for the right character it could be discombobulated or, alternatively, muddled. That’s the beauty of English too, there are many words for the one…thing. Plus, there’s reasons why Sheldon on Big Bang Theory talks the way he does. It helps convey his character, his personality and his education and is handy in moving forward the plot or making a joke, and that’s regardless of what you think of the program.

Writing is about communicating; writing a story is about communicating a narrative to others. Words shouldn’t be used as barriers in this, but at the same time, writers shouldn’t be wary of exploring language. A story, mine or yours, can’t be friends with everyone.

What I’m trying to get to is that writers and readers don’t need to entirely agree on what any story means or what it is about, but when they meet through Story they are coming together in some kind of mutual act of understanding. I write; you read.

If the author writes green eyes and the reader sees blue something is wrong. But also, don’t underestimate the readers. Writers need to keep readers, but not bludgeon them with explanation. Why? Because humans are really great at identifying patterns and similarities. Readers can be willing to work at understanding. Humans read into everything around us, symbolism in art, the motivations of characters in books or the actions of friends. We are reading and interpreting all the time. Sometimes we agree, sometimes we don’t. I say potato etc. What writers need to be aware of is this tendency to see patterns or even just think we see patterns and use it. Basically, humans want patterns since patterns mean something.

Writer/Pattern Maker

My system is to write subconsciously, just get out what ever it is in my head onto a page, it could be an entire story or a scene or a line or two, or a phrase, whatever. At a later stage I kick into gear my more deliberative skills and piece bits and pieces together and make whatever it is my imagination has regurgitated more coherent. I go over it again and again looking for patterns. These patterns could be the same word starting each paragraph – those I change as they are generally a turn off. Other patterns could be repeated images or similar traits in characters. These I must examine in more detail and make a decision about whether to highlight them and draw the story to them, as it were, or to down play or alter them if they lead away from the story. I have to ask myself what do such patterns serve in the story and if they don’t serve any purpose, do I even need them? But no matter the word or the pattern, it all serves the entirety of the finished thing, the story.

What does this all mean?

  • Read your work like a palm reader looks at a hand and find the patterns.
  • Delete or make meaningful these patterns.
  • Select the right words. They tell us stuff.
  • Be prepared to justify, explain and defend these words. They are bricks that support  your story’s edifice. 
  • Don’t be scared. No story is friends with everyone.
  • Lastly, what are you still doing here? Go on, get writing. 

2 thoughts on “No story is everyone’s friend

  1. This is a wonderful post, Rebecca.

    Not long ago I was reading a post online where a group of writers were discussing how writers should “dumb down” their writing to not speak over their readers heads, etc. It was mentioned that too many of these words would be overbearing or take away from the story. But I love your take on this! And… I *love* patterns. I’m always looking for them or noticing them. That’s probably one of the reasons I enjoy writing poetry; I like to weave rhythm and rhyme into patterns.

    One of my blog readers told me a while back that he appreciated not having too much detail thrown at him. He preferred having the space to let his imagination play in the story.

    • Hi Davina, thanks for dropping by! And thanks!

      I think there’s either a fine line, or a wide gulf, between over-explaining things in stories or making a story inexplicable. I had a post earlier (or later) about how I read in an actual real book a sentence with a question mark followed by ‘she asked’. It was a rookie panicky mistake by an author wanting to make every tiny thing clear even down to throwaway lines of dialogue. That sort of thing makes the reader (in this case me) feel dumb. Personally I love a challenge and can skip over words or even concepts I don’t quite get as long as the story is taking me somewhere. Writers need to trust their readers more I think.

      The pattern I’ve noticed is that if readers were so challenged by language why are the Brontes, Austen and Poe, or Dickens (actually I don’t much like Dickens myself but anyway) so popular? Their language is dense and complicated by current standards, but still popular.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.