Thursday, August 14, 2008

Getting The Words Right

But getting the words right isn’t just for writers. It’s for everyone.

Getting the story of one’s life right is what we’re all about. What we’re all here for. Our stories must be true, compelling, interesting, original, coherent, meaningful, and important, just as any good piece of writing must be.

The characters must be dynamic. In other words, they must learn from their experience. They must change as they learn.

There must be considerable conflict. The protagonist must face difficult choices.

The conflict must achieve a kind of resolution, no matter how tentative or ambiguous or nuanced.

Good writing delivers news of some kind, and so should our lives. Good news of some kind. Hope is the most abstract form of good news. Love and forgiveness taken together are the most powerful form of good news.

In good writing there is verisimilitude. There is the feeling that this is plausible. That this could actually happen. That this could actually be real. That the characters are possible.

And so should our lives be plausible. Non-random. So should our lives have understandable motive. So should we be believable. Integral. So should we have some consistency. Some constancy. Even in the midst of our changing.

Believable and interesting characters must struggle. Their careers must have hard patches. Maybe long, hard slogs. But they cannot be thoroughly defeated by their suffering. If they are, what we get is merely pathos, bathos, and death.

Good writing finds something affirmative even in the midst of the most terrible circumstances. Well drawn, fully imagined protagonists tilt the world toward the sun, even if that tilt sometimes seems very slight.

Good writing is surprising. Vivid. Varied.

It can be minimalist. Rhapsodic. Circuitous. Direct. Spare. Elaborate. Prosaic. Poetic. Lyrical. Cacophonous.

Good writing is not formulaic. It is not trite. It is not sanctimonious. It is not stuffy.

A life well lived lets the wind blow through. It opens itself to the elements and their vagaries. Their contingencies. Their extremes.

A life well lived does not hide. It is not fearful. It embraces its times and its place in time. Its talents and its inadequacies. Its personal and familial place. And it launches itself out onto the flood of experience to see where the flood will take it. To see how it might make its way across the flood.

The story of our lives is not knowable in advance. It is not predictable. If it is, it is bad writing. We don’t really know how it will turn out. How we will turn out. We have our point of view. But that’s all, really. All we can claim with certainty. With the certainty of personal experience. Personal awareness. But we go with it anyways. Getting the words as right as we can. As we go.

And the words and other actions seem. They sometimes seem. When they work. They seem to be given to us, in part. Provided. As though their authorship were not wholly our own. As though the author is both us and some other. Someone present but not exactly present.

Someone with us here. With us almost elsewhere, as well. As though we are getting these words as interpreters. Translators. Who are taking words from a language that is quite different from our own and finding their rough counterparts here.

Or maybe that’s not right. Maybe we aren’t so much translators. Maybe, as I say, it’s more like we are co-authors with someone little seen and even less heard who by hints and insubstantial suggestions moves us together toward a plot and a style in which he’d like to be pleased.

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