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.
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.