Saturday, February 21, 2009 in the details.

I'm currently reading Stephenie Meyer's Twilight for my Children's Fantasy Literature and Moral Formation class.  If you haven't heard of it, it's the tale of a clumsy girl (Bella) and the "too-perfect" vampire (Edward) for whom she pines.  It's an exercise in overtly difficult abstinence, written by a Mormon mom.  You see, Edward is attracted to Bella, more specifically, her blood, but he is a "vegetarian" vampire.  He only drinks the blood of animals, not humans.  He saves her life several times and wants to spend time with her, but constantly tells her that he's dangerous and she shouldn't be around him.  

It's actually not as bad as I had anticipated, especially considering the fact that I'm not exactly the romance-novel type.  The plot is decent and some of Meyer's imagery is fairly evocative.

What bothers me as I thumb through the sap is not the quality of Meyer's writing, but the lack of effort on the part of her editor.  Meyer has a spark of talent.  She can create visual scenes in the mind, and has an effective "romantic" tone to her writing.  Her novel could have been better served with more careful editing.  Here's an example:

The following scene is a bit of dialogue between Edward and Bella.  The story is written from Bella's perspective, so the I in the non-spoken text is her.  It's raining and they are walking to class.  Edward begins.

His eyes were wickedly amused.  "Will you please allow me to finish?"
I bit my lip and clasped my hands together, interlocking my fingers, so I couldn't do anything rash.
"I heard you say you were going to Seattle that day, and I was wondering if you wanted a ride."
That was unexpected.
"What?"  I wasn't sure what he was getting at.
"Do you want a ride to Seattle?"
"With who?" I asked, mystified.
"Myself, obviously."  He enunciated every syllable, as if he were talking to someone mentally handicapped.
I was still stunned.  "Why?"

First of all, my writing professors always advocated "showing," as opposed to "telling."  Meyer tells.  Second of all, the imagery of her clasping her hands together seems rather awkward.  Is she walking with her hands clasped together in front of her?  Wouldn't that be a little obvious? Perhaps it would be better behind her back.  Here's my "editing" of her text.

His eyes were wickedly amused.  "Will you please allow me to finish?"
I bit my lip and clasped my hands together behind me, interlocking my fingers, so I couldn't do anything rash.
"I heard you say you were going to Seattle that day, and I was wondering if you wanted a ride."
"Do you want a ride to Seattle?"
"With who?"
"Myself, obviously."  He enunciated every syllable, as if talking to someone mentally handicapped.

I eliminated every duplicate turn of phrase and unnecessary word.  The meaning still gets across.  Bella's confused.  Edward is offering her a ride.  Now, this isn't very good writing.  It's quite choppy.  More like a play than a novel.  Instead, I could direct Meyer to add in more subtle, more descriptive writing that doesn't simply say what the dialogue could express on its own, but instead highlights it.  Also, I would encourage her to make every word count, and thus to use these descriptive additions to build tension, evoke emotion, tell scenery, and add pacing.  I would also use more powerful words with more physical force.  Then, perhaps, it would read like this:

His eyes were wickedly amused.  "Will you please allow me to finish?"
I bit my lip and clasped my hands together behind me, interlocking my fingers, so I couldn't slap him.
"I heard you say you were going to Seattle that day, and I was wondering if you wanted a ride."
I nearly tripped into a puddle.
"Do you want a ride to Seattle?"
The rain pattering on my hood muddled my thoughts.
"With who?"
"Myself, obviously."  He lingered on every syllable, as if talking to someone mentally handicapped.

Now, I'm not exactly the best writer in the world.  I'm sure someone else would use words that packed even more punch.  Nevertheless, I see a marked improvement here.  Instead of just saying that she was going to do "something" rash, I specified that something and used a word with onomatopoeic pizzazz.  Also, Bella is known as a klutz.  So I used that to my advantage, having her trip into a puddle to evoke her surprise, rather than just saying that she was surprised.  I added the line about the rain pattering to show her confusion, add to the scenery, and pace the dialogue to allow for the reader to imagine that she is thinking before her response.  Instead of the word "enunciate," which makes me think MY-SELF OB-VI-OUS-LY, I used "linger," which actually makes his comment smoother (he's a pretty cool character) and more sarcastic (which he also seems to be...seriously, read the rest of the book).

Anyway, I guess the in the details.  Maybe instead of a writer I should be an editor.  

Or maybe I'm completely wrong and I should be lucky that I even entice people to read my blog.

Thanks, faithful reader.  

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Running with Candles

At Princeton Seminary we have a tradition at Christmas.  After our Carols of Many Nations Concert--which ends in a stirring rendition of Silent Night sung while holding candles--we walk out into the main quad, candles still lit, and sing carols.  This is the trickiest part of the evening.  How do you walk dressed in a long choir robe, with a candle in one hand and a program with lyrics for carols in the other?  If you dash out into the night, especially a windy night, your candle will go out (and you might trip to boot).  If you hold your candle too close to your program you may light it on fire, but then how can you see what you're supposed to be singing (especially after they've changed all the hymns to be gender-neutral and you constantly forget to sing "God Rest Ye Merry Christians All" instead of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen")?  So, you must balance, walk carefully into that good night.  You must discipline your steps and keep your eye close on the flickering flame.  

This is where I am.  I'm running with candles.  I have talents, loves, passions.  Like tiny flames they light my way.  But I've decided to run with them, and soon they will flicker out.

Now is the time where you, faithful reader, may assume that I am bragging.  And I probably am, unintentionally.  Nevertheless, I think that in quite a few ways I've scooted through life, run through it without barriers.  School has never been gut-wrenchingly difficult for me.  I've miraculously run right into Graduate school with only a smattering of A- to my name.  I've even somehow received scholarships without interviews, positions without trouble.  Almost everything has gone my way.  And yet.  And yet I feel as if because of that I'm running with candles.

I'm certainly passionate about things: about reading and writing and the people of God.  But I realize that that passion is about to be winked out of existence in the backdraft of my headlong run through life.  Put succinctly: I have no discipline.  I can pass a test by skimming texts, study for two hours when it takes others ten.  I can write a six page paper in under an hour and still get more than a passing grade.  And so I've never steeled myself to discipline.  And in the end, I've given myself the short end of the stick.

I do remember things that I've read that I love, quotes that stick in my mind, but they are vague illusory ghosts, not striking images that shape me, not strong cornerstones of thought.  I do not read as deeply as I would like.  I do not write as often.  Even as I pledged in my last post to be more reckless in not editing myself overmuch, I now have to look at myself and wonder if I don't need to simultaneously be more disciplined.

I don't want to lose these things that I love.  I don't want to fall back into doing something, living something, being something that I don't love because of expediency.  I've seen too many good friends who feel lost and adrift because they lost their grip on the things that made them passionate, the talents that they had.  Instead of nurturing them, they ran wild into the wind, and their candles, their talents, their passions burned out.  

I want to write.  I want to read deeply, to memorize passages, to think again long hours into the night.  I don't want to domesticate myself.  I want to be reckless.  But I'm finding that, in order to be reckless, I must be disciplined.  If I want to read and write every day, I must set aside time to do so.  If I want to write songs again, I must set aside time to do so.  If I want to retain my sanity and protect my tiny light from the ravaging wind of my situation and my needs and the greed and pressure and force of the world, and academia, and the media and entertainment...really the harsh, cold, bitter wind of my own faults and wayward ways...I must have discipline.

So, reading my last two posts together, is there such a thing as Reckless Discipline?  Or a Passionate Routine?

Thanks for sticking with me, faithful reader.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

It's About Time

Dear Faithful Reader,

I'm sure this is what you're saying, if you're still following: "It's about time!"  It's about time that Marc blogged again.  It's about time he got back into the swing of things.

I agree with you. It's about time.  So, here's the first post of the new year.  Hopefully I'll blog more regularly this year.  Hopefully a little bit more recklessly as well.

One of the hurdles I still have yet to pass in my life as a person and as a writer is my own penchant for perfection.  I have a difficult time starting something if I can't do it correctly, can't do it fully and can't do it justice.  I've started several blog posts before now, and haven't finished them.  Then I go back to them and the moment is gone, the writing is gone, the idea and the passion are gone.

The same thing has happened to several stories that I've started and since abandoned.

I need to learn to write and to live a bit more recklessly, to throw caution and editing to the wind and to try to simply produce.

I know that I can edit what I write.  I actually enjoy editing, making the words tighter, the meanings more dense.  So, I need to produce.  Produce, produce, produce.  Write, write, write.  Then edit.  I need to finish something, then perfect it later.  

In blogging, I need to just finish something.  I need to just put something out there.  So, here's a start to a new year, a new season of blogging.  Hey wind! Here's my caution.  Take it and run with it.

Thanks for sticking with me, faithful reader.