The Writer as Technician

We have all read books where the writer pays absolutely no attention to economy and effectiveness – where wordiness offenses are just as egregious as extra strokes in a bad painting. In fact, I apologize for using that big word in the last sentence. It simply means terrible. My wife just finished a book that a respected friend had suggested. Half way through, she told me it was an egregious (sorry…) read in terms of the lengthy and convoluted passages describing feelings, emotions, snarky moods, blue funks, etc. She read a passage to me and I agreed. I have experienced similar exasperations (discomforts) with authors who use buckets of adjectives to describe scenes – evidently feeling this will make their work more “literary” – even as a golfer who can’t keep his elbows in thinks that a new iron will cure his slice.

William Zinsser, the fine author and editor, warned against this. He would know. Mr. Zinsser edited stuff for John Updike when he was on the New Yorker staff. He is an expert on writing well, and in fact wrote a book titled (check this): “On Writing Well.” One of his suggestions I particularly like is “Make things easy for your readers!” I’m not sure that quote is exact, but it is close enough (You should make things easy on yourself, too).

I took that quote(?) to heart. Consider those long, wordy descriptions of scenes or characters. Why are they necessary when the internet gives us resources never before available to writers? Google! Wikipedia! I made up my mind that I was going to write a piece of hot fiction that would cut right to the chase in scene after scene and leave the glossy descriptions to people who knew the subjects better than I did. Here’s a sample:

“Harry finished his third scotch, pushed his little tray up and tightened his seatbelt as the plane slowly descended into the greasy murk of LaGuardia. The New York City skyline (http://www.ny-chamber.com) and the intoxicating bustle of the big cityusually excited him, but there was too much on his mind now. Would she be waiting at the gate to meet him? Would she exude the warmth he was hoping for, or would she be as cold as a frozen daiquiri (http://www.chow.com/recipes/10230-classic-frozen-daiquiri)? Tonight would be the night. She’d accept his explanation and apology for his wine-fueled and ill-considered hot tub cootchy coo with Cynthia – or she would be off to Atlantic City to join the oily Faro dealer who always reminded Harry of Snidely Whiplash (http://bullwinkle.toonzone.net/snidely.htm).”

 Look, nobody is going to wordsmith New York City better than its Chamber of Commerce and I could try all night to describe Rocky and Bullwinkle characters to you – but to what effect? Admit it – you want me to get on to the airport showdown or the murder – or the flashback to the hot tub and the hanky panky. Right?

 I was never very good at metaphors, similes and analogies anyway; and now the digital age has bailed me out. Where is the craft in that, you ask? Listen, some chamber flack spent long hours gilding Gotham’s polluted lily; a mixologist labored for hours perfecting the perfect daiquiri; some underpaid commercial artist knocked considerable polish off his skills to turn in a cartoon that put another tank of gas in his jitney – the better to make the rounds of clients and plead – nay, beg – that they make no more cuts in this year’s marketing budget.

 I couldn’t sleep nights if I insisted on trying to replace their selfless efforts with my own attempts at “literary” prose. I am never going to touch Joyce Carol Oates at that game, anyway. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” says Morelly, and I concur. I badly need descriptive help, and Google has got the goods!

 Chuck Thurston

cthurston@ctc.net

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