Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Is there anyone out there who can use the language?

            Here is something for any novelists or would-be novelists to consider. Jim Harrison’s masterpiece, the epic Legends of the Fall, was only 80-plus pages long. The writing was so sparse and so tight that it took him only that many pages to tell us a sweeping story, stretched out over the span of many years. And he didn’t neglect the inner vibration of the story, either. It pulsates with meaning.
            So, what’s the point, you ask? The point is that language, when used right, can convey vast amounts in a small space. Language, when used right, is power. And yet we seem to have forgotten that. I rarely meet anyone anymore who can talk, much less write, with power. I’m not saying we’ve been dumbed down but we all suspect that’s the truth.
            As a former print editor, I am constantly finding simple mistakes of punctuation and gammar, not to mention just plain bad wording in books, newspapers, and online. Oh my, online. It’s as if the writer has no regard whatsoever for the reader.
            With writing, there’s an art to letting go and staying restrained at the same time but first you have to know the rules. And be able to follow them. And be able to stay grounded in them. Art is the manipulation of the form but first you have to have a form.
            I know what you’re going to say … everybody does it differently. Pat Conroy does go on and we love to read those rich, lush uses of language. Please, Mr. Conroy, don’t ever stop. In some of his books, like Prince of Tides and The Great Santini, he gets it just right and in some, like Beach Music, he seems to be out in his own stratosphere of imagery. But it’s always beautiful.
As different as their writing is, Harrison and Conroy have something in common. Both writers know that what matters is not only the words and their meaning but also the way they’re strung together and form a whole. The shape of the whole conveys the deeper meaning, the one that can’t be said with simple words.

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