The Guilty Party

Saturday, April 11, 2009

I Come Not Just to Tell a Story, But Also To Grow Berries


It is one of those books that I have been meaning to read literally for decades and finally got around to it just this week. I was at the library looking for a book by Michael Chabon for me and one by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson for my daughter when it caught my eye and announced that it was about time I made time for it. So I plucked The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle off the shelf and took it home in company with Gentlemen of the Road, which was not the Chabon book I wanted, but that one was checked out, Peter and the Starcatchers, which was exactly what my daughter had requested, and Peter Pan, which I hoped she would be tempted to read after sampling Barry and Pearson's prequel to Barrie's classic.

I only just began reading The Last Unicorn yesterday during my lunch time, but I am enjoying it tremendously. And one of the things I like about it is that it is witty. Mr. Beagle knows how to have fun with the language and he knows how to present a very well turned phrase. He also has chunks of well presented wisdom in the book that have me reaching for my commonplace book to write them down for future reference and admiration. Other authors I cannot read without having the commonplace book at my side are Wodehouse, Pratchett, Twain, Dickens, Carroll, T.H. White, Thackeray, Wilde and Bryson. There are others, but those ones will serve as examples.

These authors are all different, all have their own styles, but one thing they have in common is the well turned phrase. They are Masters of the English language, its vocabulary, its rhythms, its tones. They are not afraid to be Writers. I admire them, I envy them and I love to spend time with them. So I think it is understandable that I have tried in various ways to pattern my own writing after theirs. And it has occured to me that this may be a problem.

Is it a good thing for an unknown writer to do anything other than try to present a story in clean, straightforward language? The kind that doesn't get in the way, that doesn't sound "writerly", that doesn't present even the slightest danger of making the reader stop and reread and maybe jot down a particularly witty, well-turned phrase? Or is this an obstacle? Is it a road too fraught with peril to even consider taking?

I haven't made my mind up about this, not yet. Although much of the criticism and rejection my writing has inspired has had as its target my tendency to strive for the witty, even on occasion the pithy, if I tried to rein that in completely I would be turning my back on those authors who inspired me to even try my hand at this most difficult of crafts.

So I think I will keep on trying to produce those juicy little berries of linguistic delight and hope that there are readers out there who will brave the thorns of semi-colon laden sentences and multi-syllabic words, of digressions and asides, and find some sort of satisfactory reading experience in what comes from my pen and keyboard.

Here is what I jotted down from The Last Unicorn right before my lunch break ended:

"He ran," the unicorn said. "You must never run from anything immortal. It attracts their attention." Her voice was gentle and without pity. "Never run," she said. "Walk slowly, and pretend to be thinking of something else. Sing a song, say a poem, do your tricks, but walk slowly and she may not follow. Walk very slowly, magician."

Let's balance that one with a bit from Something Fresh by P.G. Wodehouse:

The odd impulse to leap across the compartment and kiss Joan was not love. It was merely the natural desire of a good hearted young man to be decently chummy with his species.

And finally:

There are few fates--outside of the more gruesome types of torture, such as purchasing an automobile or sitting next to a hygienically challenged person in coach on a trans-Pacific flight--that are worse than being bored for three years. Even if one is being paid. Really. Some people may live the life and believe it suits them, but they are mistaken about this and it may be confidently supposed that they are mistaken about many things.

It's not Wodehouse, but at least I'm trying.


Go Ye Forth and Do Likewise.

3 comments:

Timberati said...

I think it may be because you are a writer that you notice such sentences. Every once-in-a-while I see one so clean, so perfect, it just sings.

plumboz said...

You are probably right. There is a real joy, a certain amount of inspiration and a real sense of envy one gets reading really good prose.

Anna said...

"I must keep to my own style and go on in my own way." Jane Austen

Hmmm... Ok for Jane to say. However, it is inspirational because I don't have the time to go on in any other way!

A Bit About Me

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I am a writer with a longtime interest in photography. I'm a dad, husband, photographer, and not very good guitarist. My first novel, Boomerang, is available in both paperback and ebook form at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords.com. As a matter of fact, my second novel, The Baer Boys, can be found at exactly the same places.