Writers appear to be trying to identify as many concrete entities as possible, in the fewest possible words.The result is celebrated as “lean,” “tight,” “well-honed” prose.Many of these stories seemed to have been pared down to a nearly unreadable core of brisk verbs and vivid nouns.Tags: How Do You Write A Proposal For A Research PaperWriting Better EssaysUw Madison Thesis ArchiveThesis Of Industrial DesignEssays On The Death PenaltyCritical Thinking Is QuizletEssay Phrases In SpanishArgumentative Essay On Music CensorshipWrite On Paper Minecraft
One of the by-products of hyperspecificity is a preponderance of proper names.
For maximum specificity and minimum word count, names can’t be beat.
A short story says, “I looked for x, and didn’t find it,” or, “I was not looking anymore, and then I found x.” A novel says, “I looked for x, and found a, b, c, g, q, r, and w.” The novel consists of all the irrelevant garbage, the effort to redeem that garbage, to integrate it into Life Itself, to redraw the boundaries of Life Itself.
The novel is a fundamentally ironic form; hence its power of self-regeneration.
Granted, Chekhov was writing from a different point in the historico-philosophical dialectic: a character could be called “Gurov’s wife,” “the bureaucrat,” or “the lackey,” and nobody would take it as a political statement. Would Pushkin have managed to inspire anybody at all had he written: “The night before Countess Maria Ivanovna left for Baden Baden, a drunken coachman crashed the Mirskys’ troika into the Pronskys’ dacha”? Pushkin knew that it is neither necessary nor desirable for the first sentence of a literary work to answer the “five w’s and one h.” Many of the Best Americans assume this perverse burden.
The result is not just in medias res, but in-your-face in medias res, a maze of names, subordinate clauses, and minor collisions: “The morning after her granddaughter’s frantic phone call, Lorraine skipped her usual coffee session at the Limestone Diner and drove out to the accident scene instead”; “Graves had been sick for three days when, on the long, straight highway between Mazar and Kunduz, a dark blue truck coming toward them shed its rear wheel in a spray of orange-yellow sparks.” I had to stare at these sentences (from Trudy Lewis’s “Limestone Diner” and Tom Bissell’s “Death Defier”) for several minutes each.Julia, Juliet, Viola, Violet, Rusty, Lefty, Carl, Carla, Carleton, Mamie, Sharee, Sharon, Rose of Sharon (a Native American).In acknowledgment of the times, the 20 volumes each contain exactly one Middle East story, each featuring a character called Hassan. I was no less annoyed by John Briggs or John Hillman than by Sybil Mildred Clemm Legrand Pascal, who invites the reader to call her Miss Sibby.Missing persons, missed opportunities, very brief encounters, occuring in the margins of “Life Itself”: when the content is minimalist, then it makes sense to follow the short-fiction dictates: condense, delete, omit.Novels, like short stories, are often about absences; but they are based on information overload.Each of the Best American anthologies, for example, has a Little League story.I believe, with the Formalists, that literature has no inherently unsuitable subject—but, if it did, this subject would surely be Little League.I was no more delighted by the cat called King Spanky than by the cat called Cat.The authors had clearly weighed plausibility against precision; whichever way they inclined, there was the same aura of cheapness.Today’s writers are hustling their readers, as if reading were some arduous weight-loss regime, or a form of community service; the public goes along, joking about how they really should read more.Oprah uses identical rhetoric to advocate reading and fitness; Martha Nussbaum touts literature as an exercise regime for compassion.