Monday, August 19, 2013

Tool #37: In short works, don't waste a syllable.

. . . Shape short writing with wit and polish.

Today I am featuring another chapter tidbit from Roy Peter Clark's book, "Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies For Every Writer,"         published by Little, Brown and Company. You can find a copy here.

In the ideal, the author of a great big novel should not waste a syllable, but he will, and chances are, in an ocean of words, the reader will not notice.  The shorter the story form, the more precious is each word. . . 

Poet Peter Meinke taught me that short writing forms have three peculiar strengths: power, wit, and polish.  Their brevity gives short works a focused power; it creates opportunity for wit; and it inspires the writer to polish, to reveal the luster of the language. . . 

     In his column for the Charlotte Observer, Jeff Elder wrote this response to a query about the extinction of an American species:

Passenger pigeons looked like mourning doves, but more colorful, with wine-red breasts, green necks and long blue tail feathers.

In 1800, there were 5 billion in North America.  They were in such abundance that the new technology of the Industrial Revolution was enthusiastically employed to kill them.  Telegraphs tracked their migration.  Enormous roosts were gassed from trees while they slept.  They were shipped to market in rail car after rail car after rail car.  Farmers bought two dozen birds for a dollar, as hog feed.  

In one human generation, America's most populous native bird was wiped out.

There's a stone wall in Wisconsin's Wyalusing State Park.  On it is a bronze plaque of a bird.  It reads: "This species became extinct through the avarice and thoughtlessness of man."

When I asked readers to appreciate this piece, they point to its many shiny facets.  They notice:

     -"The phrase 'rail car after rail car after rail car' looks like a rail car."

     -"The words 'were gassed' carry connotations of a holocaust."

     -"The first paragraph is filled with natural imagery, but the second contains      
       the language of destructive technology."

     -"Given their extinction, it is fitting that the pigeons looked like 'mourning'  
       doves.  The author takes advantage of that coincidence."

In short writing, the reader sees the ending from the get-go.  With his ending, Elder adds a finish to the surface of the text. . .

Now, get out one of Roy's tools and put it to use in the WORKSHOP:

     -Begin a collection of short writing forms.  Study how they are written.  Make a list of techniques you could use in your writing.

Next week. . . Tool # 38: Prefer archetypes to stereotypes.

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Journey into the Promised Land

Journey into the Promised Land
From Egypt to Israel