Friday, September 6, 2013

Day 243 of the 365 Days of Blogging

The author, Dane F. Baylis






Elmore Leonard died less than a month ago, on August 20, 2013. He left behind a legacy of some of the most terse crime fiction ever produced. He also left behind 10 rules for writers. I have to admit that I read his rules before I read his fiction, and then with the egotistical thought of catching him out. I was sure there had to be someplace where he'd violated his own rules. I have a penchant for hopeless quests.
The result of my exercise in futility was that I went back and read those rules again. This time I paid even closer attention to what Leonard was saying. The more I thought about his advice, the more it made perfect sense. What he was telling us was that a story needs to be as unfettered by writerly artifice as possible in order to accomplish its main task. That task is to make the reader as unaware of the author and the process of reading as possible.
One of the rules that struck me right away was No. 8:
Avoid detailed descriptions of characters. Which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway's ''Hills Like White Elephants'' what do the ''American and the girl with him'' look like? ''She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.'' That's the only reference to a physical description in the story, and yet we see the couple and know them by their tones of voice, with not one adverb in sight.
How many times do we pick up a story, whether short, novella, or novel and drown in hair, eye, and lip color? We are told how tall everyone is. How thin, fat, or average. We end up knowing more about them than their proctologist. To what end? Does a bad guy have to be described as swarthy? Is the heroine more likely to prevail because she's a blonde? Are all detectives barrel chested no necks?
If you're anything like me, the next question is, "Who gives a damn?" If you present a character who is clearly framed in the words they speak, your audience will build a mental image of that character. Will it be exactly the one you had in mind? No, but you're not the one reading it, are you? Part of good story telling is the allowance for the reader's imagination to come into play. A story is much more appealing when you have faith in your audience's ability to fill in the blanks on their own.
I have developed my style over the years and I always have a very clear idea of who my characters are and how they look when I start writing. However, I don't get detailed when it comes to whether a man is taller or shorter, whether he is stocky or thin, whether he dresses well or is something of a slob. That comes out in the way the character speaks and the reactions those words evoke from other characters.
Even builders of extensive fantasy worlds such as Verne, Tolkien, or Orwell used tricks such as giving characters descriptive monikers to get your imagination bubbling. Nemo, Gandalf the Gray, Winston Smith. Every syllable was chosen to make you take the next leap for yourself. Just further proof that brevity is, indeed, the soul of wit...and wisdom.
Advocates and Avatars
Dane F. Baylis
She went along
To see what it was like
 In one of those places.
Somewhere near the bottom
Of her third drink
She became fond of the word
Watching the girls
Grinding bored pelvises
At male faces
Whose eyes spoke monologues
On the betrayal of fantasy.
By the end of her fourth
She demanded my participation
How could I not be disgusted?
I shrug
Slipping a buck under the garter
On the generous blonde
Trading diplomatic smiles with me
Neither of us denying
That on our separate sides of the runway
We are too old for each other.
Unlike my companion
She never mixes idealism
With economic necessity.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------, love, write.
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Dane F. Baylis

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