Thursday, May 31, 2012
The Art of Writing No. 46
I’d like to continue the refrain of Jack Sanger good, Jack Sanger not bad which I began in the last blog. It was in answer to the question I posed myself after my illustrious writer friend opined that I maybe should not deign to build a central character who is a successful writer. My first answer involved the notion of ‘critical introspection’ from my academic days.
Admittedly I am not (yet) a household name in the world of fiction but who knows, I have ambition! Let me think a little more about my weaknesses as a writer, some of which will have leaked on to the screen of previous blogs, more as incidental remarks than focused literary self-criticism. So, let’s go. These are areas I have recognized I should watch carefully in order not to pollute my prose with infelicity.
I appear to have a problem with prepositions. I make more adjustments to prepositions than any other part of my syntax. Why? Maybe it goes back to childhood at school, maybe the cadences of my inner dialogue betray me with alliteration and other sound resonances which then produce the wrong word. Maybe it’s because I hate repetition in a paragraph and stick in an inappropriate preposition in an attempt at variety and then revert or change again, sometimes having to alter the whole sentence to avoid repeats. Occasionally I can’t think which preposition is the right one and stare blankly at my notebook or screen.
Another failing I have is over-extending metaphors. I begin well enough but find myself moving from fluidity into a stick morass as I chase the meaning into cul de sacs of ornate meaninglessness. Why is Kamil in Azimuth a fearful detective? Well, he is not used to it being a man of the library rather than of action. But, having spent a sentence or two delivering this picture I go on and on, reveling in his fears and historical anti-heroes. The answer to this is worth a note. What can be said in an effusive paragraph can be spread more thinly through the whole book so that the picture of Kamil is in the form of a drip-feed and we have, from the novelist’s point of view, a kind of character striptease. Since, like most writers other than the most obsessively pedantic, I hate rewriting or erasing my ‘flow’, this was a hard lesson for me.
There are times when I am too pleased with the sound of my own voice. That is, I find my own views coming from the mouths of characters rather than theirs. It is obtrusive and crass and has to be scratched regardless of the sheer beauty of the text (!).
I can write pages of dialogue without the scaffolding of description or helpful positioning pointers, assuming the reader can follow who is speaking. This, of course becomes increasingly cryptic if there is more than one person involved in dialogue.
I rely too much on my own definitions of words and later I have to check in a dictionary what they actually mean. Occasionally it is the opposite of my assumption, a sort of malapropism. I used the word ‘enervate’ entirely wrongly at first. our This can then throw my careful building of poetic expression.
Weaknesses become apparent over the years and we attend to them laboriously and somewhat truculently. That’s the way of it. We play to our strengths and excommunicate our evils. Now should I have used that word there?