Dont Pose and Posture

Your style and attitude in your stories should be like a clean pane of glass through which the reader sees the action. If you pose and posture in your copy, you'll draw attention to you as a writer, rather than to what's happening on your page. And that's always bad.

The two kinds of posing and posturing that seem most widespread these days are:

• The Frustrated Poet

Both are phony. Both may be sick. Both wreck fiction. To make sure you won't do either of these acts, let's look briefly at each of them.

The frustrated poet act most often shows up when the writer is trying to do one of two good things: face a strong emotion in a character, or describe a striking bit of scenery. The writer usually decides to gear up and mount a massive effort to string together some really striking word-pictures. What results is what we sometimes call a purple patch - a few sentences or paragraphs crammed with adjectives and other crutch-words designed to "be pretty" or provide some "fine writing. " At best it's a pretty but cumbersome and distracting effort to get at the finest detail, when presentation of such poetic detail isn't necessary for the reader's understanding of the story. At worst, the purple patch is the result of the writer's compulsion to show off the style that won her accolades from her sixth-grade English teacher.

The prototypical purple patch, mentioned once before in this book, is the "rosy fingers of dawn" chapter or scene opening. Such openings go something like this:

As the rosy fingers of dawn painted gossamer strands of drifting cumulus over the vast and lovely expanse of the cyan night, a gentle zephyr nudged sleeping emerald leaves to sibilant stirrings, turning each tiny protoplasmic elf into a whispering, pirouetting dancer, intent upon welcoming the dawn of another warm and beautiful morning.

Such stuff when carried to the extreme shown in the example is obviously hilarious because the reader can almost see the poor writer sitting there at the keyboard, risking creative hernia and mounting tiny droplets of blood on her forehead. But even if the poetic effort isn't quite this absurd, it is still bad-and not only because it calls attention to the prose itself, rather than to the story. It's also destructive to the story because a story's momentum, for the reader, comes from the plot's forward movement. And when you stop to describe something, you have stopped. Thus, after such a passage, your job as a storyteller has been made harder because your first task becomes one of. getting things moving again, off dead center.

Any time you find yourself sighing over a paragraph you have written, you are well advised to take a long, hard, more critical look at it. Ask yourself:

• Did this passage develop naturally? (Or did I force it?)

• Does this passage really contribute to necessary mood and tone? (Or did I stick it in to indulge myself?)

• Does this passage advance the story?

• Is there a simpler and more direct way to convey the same information?

All of us have written passages we look back on with fondness. But the dead-stop poetic description will never be among them. Purple patches, signs of a frustrated poet rearing his shaggy head, may occur in first draft of a story as we let our imagination run, but on revision we must look hard at all such passages with an eye toward simplifying and cleaning up our act.

The tough guy/gal act also represents a false pose. In this case, the writer runs to the opposite end of the writing spectrum and denies all impulse at the delicate or the soft by being over-tough, over-cynical, over-gruff, or over-bitter.

I'll spare you an example of this kind of writing. You have seen too many examples in print, I suspect. Such writers tend to write about rough, tough heroes who grunt and curse and bash a lot.

In recent times, however, the male crusher-basher tough guy has a serious competitor: the tough-talking, neurotically independent "modern female. " These women need no one, and talk and act as bad as their fictional male counterparts.

The existence of all such tough-talk fiction proves that a lot of authors are posing behind the act of creation.

It's crucial that you be yourself as an author, and not pose. Just to be sure, you might consider asking yourself the following question:

Am I acting tough in order to hide my true feelings behind the act!

If the answer is "yes", then you're operating a charade rather than writing honest fiction, and you ought to rethink things.

You see, the bottom line here is that you have only one thing that's yours and yours alone-only one unique item you can sell: yourself. Posing, whether it's as a sachet-sniffing poet or brass-knuckled bully, is still posing-may still represent flight from your own feelings, which are your most precious salable commodity. Ultimately, posturing is a symptom of fear. It's always self-defeating.

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