Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Self-Editing: Layering

No, this is not a horticultural digression on the propagation of briars and vines, a dissertation on hen coop production schedules, or a discussion on the proclivities of ambitious stud muffins.
Dear me, I get carried away sometimes.
This is about adding extra dimensions to one's prose. Best done, the experts claim, after the second or third draft - after one has dealt with those Tom Swifties, the dangling participles, and the character Who Disappeared.
It's about emphasizing, tweaking, massaging the sub-text, the theme, the underlying patterns, the inherent symbolism, into peripheral visibility. Corner-of-the-eye stuff.
And unless you are one of those disgusting brilliant writers who can handle a four-in-hand, you do it during revision.
King, in On Writing, gives a rather clunky example, citing the use of the intitials JC for a sacrificial character. But his point is good, that one's work is enhanced by allusions to archetypal parallels, by intimations of immortality, cultural legends and such.
Done well, it becomes a shared and secret communication, a delighted revelation, between the reader and the writer.
Unfortunately, the balance between blatant and subtle is sometimes hard to achieve.
One waffles between hitting the reader over the head with a two by four ( didyagetit? huh? huh?) and writing so obversely obscurata that your allusion goes completely over the head of the most erudite. And there is no use claiming your precious theme is meaningful and deep. If your writing is that deep, your reader has drowned. The idea, I think, is to produce a simple current to carry the reader, not a rip-tide.
For example, if one wishes to imply that a protagonist ( or "protag"- apparently the preferred secret short-hand of the In Group) has sleeping-beauty-princess-in-the-tower dimensions, one might drop verbs such as "cloistered" or mention a perfectly natural climbing vine on the outside of her house. Or if one wishes to reinforce a medieval parallel, one might describe smoke from a fire spreading like banners in the wind. All of a sudden, I hear distant trumpets and see a caparisoned calvacade winding through the Northern March.
As I understand it, this enriching process need not be complicated or even all that structured.
And I wonder if I sent my manuscript out, half-naked, like a wandering minstrel without a harp.


Anonymous said...
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Stewart Sternberg said...

This is a good post. I find that returning to a work once I have identified a motif, and filling in the niches to help redefine that motif or thematic element is effective.

In other words, I agree with you.


Bernita said...

Appreciate that, Stewart.
Thanl you.