Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Tom 301 - For Advanced Writers Only

I won't name names but there is a famous author who once lamented that there were not yet college courses being offered in that author’s name but, hopefully, there would be soon.

That author needed my brother Tom to come over and push that author off that author’s chair.

Tom is one of those very approachable, super-kind people who are hugely successful because they are 100% suited to what they do. They radiate their good expectations of their lives, and only talk to one or two people when they’re blue instead of dragging their address book down with them. When I have a party it is Tom everyone wants to sit next to, including me, and if someone gets drunk and laughs extra large over humor that is only medium, it is Tom who makes them feel the next day like everyone else did the same thing.

Unless they're pretentious. Here is what happened when I tried once to say a pretentious thing to Tom:

Me: (tilting head and looking serious) Have you heard that expression, “Forgiveness is the violet of the heel that’s crushed it?”
Tom: No.
Me: Wait, that was wrong. It’s “Forgiveness is the violet of the fragrance…” No. Wait.
Tom: Okay.
Me: Ah. This is it. “Forgiveness is the fragrance of the heel that has crushed the…”
Me: I’m mixing up Forgiveness and Fragrance. Okay. Hold on.
Tom: Okay.
Me: “Forgiveness is the fragrance of the violet which clings to the heel that has crushed it.”
Tom: Christ.
Me: That’s it.
Tom: Please, just tell me if I love something I’ll set it free… yadee, yadee, yadee.

(Don’t you wish he was your brother?)

Our exchanges are all over the map but I take that one in particular out and look at it when writing becomes flowery, or pretentious, or God forbid, “gauzey,” the worst, and laziest adjective ever born to describe a writer’s style. Pretentious writing among other things, inflates a point which probably belongs in the “goes without saying,” bin. It’s almost as tedious as moody writing, those short sentences or strings of words which all say the same thing but in a different way, as though a reader will come around and be in your mood with you if you poke at them enough.

He looked at the door. Stared. Didn’t look away. Time went by. Still. He stared.
And then, when staring wasn’t enough – he couldn’t look away. He stared some more.
At the door.
He was alone. He was tired. He was forgotten. He was a violet on the heel of a fragrance of a boot.

I love second day editing for that reason. You’re in a different mood, maybe not as gloomy or - gauzey. Maybe not as cheerful or perky. You look over that last half of a paragraph before the chapter ends and see all those fragments absent the influence that made them magical when you typed them and you realize - it’s not standalone. It needs to lean on your writer mood or it will fall down. Standalone writing, the kind that looks great no matter what comes before or after or how long it’s been there on the page is, like having those conversations with Tom that make you feel understood.

Unless you try to be pretentious. I will not be pretentious, even Someday, or I'll get pushed off my chair.

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