Jan 06

Pumping Up Prose Style

At the last prose reading I attended, each piece was competently written in a funereal monotone that never varied or picked up its pace. Not a simile or metaphor anywhere; no sensations were described except those that came through eyes and ears; vast on talk and low on action. Very low-risk writing and deadly dull, like an electronic hum. And it was all very serious, so I know it was intended to be literary art.

Completely sterilized flatline prose, "strike out all the adjectives" prose, Ray Carver prose without Carver's timing or delicacy -- is too common. It seems to me as if the "personal style" we writers are all supposed to develop on our own won't happen anymore unless we are taught or encouraged to write memorable as well as competent prose. I wanted to say, "Hey, creative people,
  • try making up a simile to describe that "indescribable" thing!
  • Get your characters up from their tables and moving!
  • You don't have to give us every sniffle of every conversation! Paraphrase the dull stuff!
  • The other three of the five senses aren't illegal!
  • Convey a range of emotion!
  • Put in a subplot so we have two things to care about!
  • Lighten up just once, even if it's just the briefest mention of the bizarre or amusing!"
Jul 01

How Not To Begin Your Meditative Essay

Old, dumb chestnuts guaranteed to exasperate your reader (and how they do that. So be aware, and do better than these):

  • "While having my second cup of coffee...." (indicates excess leisure; annoys readers who by necessity wake to horrible alarm clock, rush the kids to school, rush to work)
  • "our late breakfast of coffee and blood oranges..." (indicates excess leisure and money-fueled hyperestheticism (the oranges being rare and expensive; the casual reference to "blood," the implied reference to Wallace Stevens' "Sunday Morning"), and, lucky you, you probably have a two-income household)
  • "Walking in the desert wilderness I was thinking about..." (indicates a panoply of luxuries: solitude, leisure to think, time for aimless walking, and placement in a remote quiet setting)
  • "Woke up this morning..." (it's an essay, not a blues song, honey)
  • "My mother" / My father" (no one cares; get to the point) (I once read a litmag that had four pieces in it all beginning with the words "My father...")
  • "Sometimes, reality strikes with the force of a tidal wave" (you're just figuring that out?)
  • "I find myself saying frequently to my students..." (wow, you've got a teaching job? lucky you)
  • "My father would sit with his feet up on his desk..." (your father had a desk?)
  • "My senior year..." (better, start out "In 1985," or whatever year it was. Nobody cares about your senior year, but some readers might give a hoot about 1985 as a year)
  • "I learned early on..." (you're showing, not telling)